The Kilbroney Rambler’s Autumn Trip to Scotland 2018
As the fifth year of the Kilbroney Rambler’s walking group draws to an end the celebrations ended with an autumn trip to Fort William, Scotland. The target was Ben Nevis at 1345 meters the highest mountain in the United Kingdom.
Planning began almost a year before, setting the date and a venue, the Ben Nevis Hotel situated close to our proposed walk sites. Rooney Coach Hireprovided their 60 seater Executive Coach. On Wednesday 3rd of October the trip began at 8.45am in Hilltown Square, picking up in Rostrevor, Warrenpoint, Newry, Banbridge and finally Belfast such is the diversity of the clubs membership. The Stenaline 11.30 am sailing to Cairnryan proved a very pleasant crossing of the Irish Sea with just a little rocking as the ferry eased out of Belfast Lough, just to remind us we were at sea!!
On time, our coach left Cairnryan at 2.00pm and began the long five and a half hour journey to Fort William. Glasgow, The Erskine Bridge, Dumbarton, Lough Lomond all passed, then a coffee stop at the Drovers Inn just at the top of Lough Lomond. Tea, coffee and scones were provided with a welcome 45 minute stop for Neal our Driver. From the Drover’s Inn it was a one and a half hour journey to Fort William, passing the Highland Railway as it traversed the rugged terrain of the highlands, sometimes clinging to the side of high mountains, sometimes burrowing into deep cuttings. Then there was the beautiful Glencoe, reached just as evening was closing in. The high peaks beckoning with the promise of future fantastic walking and as the last glimpses of day light fell a small herd of deer crossed the river on the way to evening pasture. We arrived at the Ben Nevis Hotel at 7.45pm where evening dinner was served. After a long tiring journey most called it a night, anticipating what was to come.
Decision time and the Weather! On checking the weather forecast, Thursday 4th of October became our tour of the Highlands day. After a hearty breakfast we assembled at 10am and travelled to Steanbridge, stopping at the Commando Monument and then on to Fort Augustus for a morning coffee stop and a view of the famous stepped locks, “Neptune’s Staircase” which moves boats up and down from the Caledonian Canal and Lough Locky to Lough Ness. The weather changed from a “soft” Scottish day with blowing rain, the clouds began to lift affording tantalizing glimpses of beautiful highland hills and rolling scenery as we passed Lough Ness. Unfortunately no one sighted Nessie as we passed along the twenty mile Lough into Inverness. We returned to Fort William at 4.30pm via the A9 with an afternoon coffee stop in the village of Newtonmor. Back at the hotel many enjoyed the pool and the Jacuzzi or just relaxed before dinner at 7.00 pm.
The first days walk. It would be no exaggeration to say that Scotland is full of glens, where there is a mountain then there is a glen! Ben Nevis is no different; nesting under the Ben’s towering peak is one of Scotland most beautiful glens, Glen Nevis, famous in recent years as the site where much of the movie “Brave Heart” was filmed. The glen extends for some 16 kilometers divided in two parts, from Fort William to Polldubh Falls and with the fast running River Nevis flowing through. Ben Nevis mountain sweeps down steeply on one side and across the river, Nevis Forest reaches down to meet the meadows along Nevis River. The upper part of the glen above Pollduph Falls extends along the river now called Water of Nevis and tumbles down rocky gorges with steep mountains on each side reaching
toward the sky. The walks took place in the lower glen, a 13 k flattish walk along the west side of the river from the Ben Nevis Visitor Centre to Polldubh Falls and back along the forest trail. For the C walkers a four and a half hour walk and for the T walkers the start was Polldubh Falls with a short detour part way up Sron Dewg mountain to get some great views of the glen and then the forest trail back to the Ben Nevis restaurant where refreshments were availed of and a rendezvous with the C walkers.
Day two and the push to the summit.
The 15 T walkers took the coach to Polldubh Falls, the start of yesterdays walk, and continued up the glen along the river, the terrain was muddy and difficult in places with fast flowing streams to be crossed. We continued along paths and moorland for two hours and then returned to be picked up by the coach. Along the way we listened on the short wave radio on the progress of the C and C plus group high above us on their way to the top of Ben Nevis.
After a hearty Scottish breakfast at 7.00am the group of forty three had started from the Visitor Centre at 8.30am on Saturday morning. Lead by William Mitchell, Peter O’Rourke Pat McBride, Frank O’Hare, Rosemary Seaman and assisted at the rear by Michael Gilmore. Such is the dedication of the Kilbroney Ramblers leaders, William and Frank had ascended to the top of Ben Nevis the day before to check out the conditions taking five hours for the climb up and down!!
With a sound, clear briefing by William before the walk started all the walkers were aware of what lay ahead. Later some remembered feeling nervous and worried that they may not be fit enough for the climb but most considered the climb to be easier than expected thanks to the pace of the walk and the advice as they walked, “eat energy and protein bars and nuts, drink plenty of water as you walk. Don’t wait until you are tired or hungry, It’s too late then”
The terrain proved to be very steep and rough in places, in other areas like climbing stairs. Most were surprised to find themselves at the lake junction; many had reached their target of 600 meters the highest they had ever climbed. A welcome rest for all and as William called for those who wished to “go to the top” to step forward one can imagine his surprise when 22 walkers stepped across the line. William was to say later he felt elated that so many in the group were committed and prepared to make such an effort. “If they want to do it, I will make sure they make it” he said. With a final long lingering look at the scenery and the stunning views from half way up the Ben the group split up as per the pre-arranged plan, with 21 starting down under the guidance of Pat McBride and Rosemary Seaman.
For the 22 intrepid walkers heading up for the summit the going got steeper and tougher. With William’s well thought out pace none of the walkers felt under stress. Then at 900 meters the mist and fog came down as the group reached the most dangerous part of the mountain, with Five Finger Gully and Surgeons Gully off to the right in the fog and the sheer North face of Ben Nevis ever present to their left the grim reality of their adventure was ever present.
Someone later described it as a moonscape, some were scared, others were elated with the buzz of the walk, but all were assured by William’s leadership ably assisted by the other leaders. Eventually the plateau just below the summit was reached and with the final push to the summit the elation!! The joy of achievement and the experience was felt by many as hugs and kisses were exchanged, much gratitude to William and the other leaders, a photo shoot and lunch, the luxury of a well earned rest.
Then the mountain reminded them it was time to return, as more fog and clouds swept in to end the celebrations. A quick briefing from William on the safety procedures to follow and then the long slow decent began, proving every bit more dangerous going down. Slowly and carefully the group descended surprised at the large number of other walkers on the mountain, some fit for the climb, some obviously not prepared! After nine hours the tired and wary group arrived back at the Ben Nevis Centre to be greeted by David the trip organizer who had been in radio contact with William throughout the day.
Some thoughts of some of the walkers; “on the way down so many we met had asked if we made it to the top, we proudly answered Yes” “the elation on reaching the summit” “I was at the top of Ben Nevis – the folks back home won’t believe it” “the best experience of my life” “a great day” ““wouldn’t be possible only for William” “Pat told me to stop talking on the way down - I wonder why?”
Dinner on Saturday evening was a celebration event, our President Pat McBride, our Chairman, William Mitchell together with their wives Dee and Beatrice were piped in to dinner by a local piper, true Scottish tunes resounded though out the dinning room and so ended the adventure of Ben Nevis.
The Kilbroney Ramblers wishes to acknowledge the help and assistance of the “Grants for all” from the Big Lottery Fund. We also wish to express our thanks to our driver Neal Cunningham from Eamonn Rooney Coach Hire. I wish to express my thanks to Beatrice Mitchell and Phyl Francis for their contribution in the
preparation of this report.