As everyone jets off on holidays all around the world, in Europe and beyond, I took the opportunity to travel to the Scottish Highlands and climb the tallest mountain in the British Isles, Ben Nevis and explore some territory closer to home. In recent months whilst being at University I have loved exploring places in the UK – and my bank balance has been thankful! I have discovered that you do not have to travel far to experience new and unknown places. The Highlands of Scotland is notorious for being misty, mysterious and barren. Although this is in part true, I also experienced the opposite on multiple occasions.
Fort William is the main town in the Scottish Highlands, nearest to the Ben Nevis mountain range. I stayed at a nearby campsite, Glen Nevis that provided a brilliant location to climbing the mountain and other surrounding walks. Fort William was not entirely what I had envisaged, it is not the old and quaint town to expect, but more industrial and barren. However, it provides all the essentials you could need whilst camping in Scotland. For a spectacular view of Fort William on a clear day, be sure to walk the Cow Hill route that can be accessed near to the Glen Nevis campsite. It is a short(ish) walk with a heavy incline, taking you through a forest path onto a dusty terrain. Once at the top of the hill, you can see the entirety of Fort William and surrounding Loch Linnhe, as well as a brilliant view of Ben Nevis and the mountain range.
Ben Nevis is known for being Scotland’s iconic mountain, and attracts many visitors every year who take on the challenge to climb 1,345 meters above sea level. Previously, I have climbed Scafell Pike in the Lake District, Pen Y Fan in the Brecon Beacons and Snowdon in Wales. Ben Nevis is notably taller than all of these and characterised by its length and sheer ascent. On my own ascent, I took the Pony Track or also known as the Mountain Path (most popular) from Glen Nevis which is one of two tracks up the mountain. The other is recommended for professional climbers and is generally, not attempted by the public.
Weather and visibility is particularly unpredictable in Scotland and it was unfortunate that on the day of climbing Ben Nevis, the cloud cover and visibility was so reduced that upon reaching the summit, there was not a view to be seen. All that I could see was a grey mist covering the entirety of the landscape. Despite the disappointment, it still made for an atmospheric climb, despite only spending a few minutes at the top due to shivering and plummeting temperatures. Snow could be seen approaching the summit, a very common occurrence at most times in the year. The summit itself is a collapsed dome of an ancient volcano which also features an old observatory staffed in the early years of public access between 1883-1904. Nowadays, it acts as a popular shelter from the bitter wind.
The weather really is the luck of the draw, but although I did not get the view I so eagerly awaited, the climb was a test of my own physical endurance and a challenge like no other I had put myself through. Upon waking in the morning, I could not move, but it was all worth it. I would definitely like to climb it again one day! Although it was hard, it was not enough to put me off.
Aside from climbing Ben Nevis, there are endless walks available in the Fort William and Glencoe area that are arguably, just as (or more) impressive than Ben Nevis. The Lost Valley trail was a hidden gem in the heart of Glen Coe which really encompassed my vision of The Highlands with its rugged stone, dramatic landscape and plummeting valleys and waterfalls. Many years ago, it acted as a valley used to hide cattle by the MacDonalds of Glen Coe. It is more of an undiscovered path of Scotland however, it is becoming increasingly well known by tourists. Involving a steep and rocky path with slight scrambling at times it is not the easiest of walks but easily, one of the most fulfilling. The view of the Valley is one I will remember for a long time – as well as the feeling of being transported back to the ancient, Neolithic world, surrounded by stone firepits, water and secret caves.
Another area not to miss is the Glen Nevis Valley trail and Steall Falls in Kinlochleven. Walking along the endless sandy paths situated deep within the valley, gives the feeling of being in the Alps, despite being close to home. The landscape stretches out for miles beneath the running waters and stone ruins. Steall Falls is Scotland’s second highest waterfall and is well worth a visit. The surrounding Glen Nevis Valley is one perfect to stroll in, the path goes on for endless miles to satisfy any exploration cravings. The Steal Ruinis can be seen from the path and it is suggested that prevalence of ancient ruins that appear in trails and valleys, could be as a result of Highland Clearances that occurred in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries; whereby a process of evicting tenants was underwent. Families and farming businesses were cleared out by aristocratic land owners who had previous statuses as Scots Galenic clan chiefs. The remains of their livelihoods, can be seen spotted across the Highlands.
Aside from accommodating numerous walks with spectacular landscapes, the Fort William area is only a short distance from the costal areas of Morar and Mallaig – two areas offering a change from the dramatic landscapes of the inner Highlands. On a sunny day, Morar beach is perfect for a picnic and a stroll along the beach or respite from the Ben Nevis climb the day before.
Camping in the Highlands was simultaneously an exhausting and rejuvenating experience. In the modern world, it is easy to lose sight of the beauty of nature on one’s own doorstep and be lost in the flurry of European and international travel, as well as the lure of social media and days spent indoors. However, visiting the Highlands has proved that there is beauty on our own doorstep here in the UK. After a tough exam period at University, there is nothing like a camping trip to reset your circadian rhythm in the midst of nature.