Sunday, April 5, 2009

Ben and Glen - not the flowerpot men!

No, not the flowerpot men, Nevis that is!

Breakast is a little later today thankfully on account that it is Sunday. It gives us a bit of time to search for self catering accommodation for this week. Thankfully, we find a cottage on the Isle of Skye where they have just had a cancellation. I think that it is the only cottage available on the island for the next two weeks! Breakfast is a cooked affair being waited on by Ewen with the ever present yummy Cumberland sausage and some of the best poached eggs we have had yet.

Today we are off to take a look at Ben Nevis, the highest mountain in Scotland and in the United Kingdom. The day that dawned crystal clear is becoming a little hazy as it seems to do each day. Still, the clouds are high and moving quickly across the sky with a stiff breeze behind them so there is almost no risk of rain or mist! Now, if only we can find that hedge near the school yard then we can remind Brendan of his brush with the local constabulary!!!

There is a gondola that takes you from the 100m base height up to the Snowgoose Restaurant stop at 2150 feet. If we want all the way up, then it is on shanks' pony from there as none of the upper lifts are working today (no thanks!). Ben Nevis peaks out at 4406 feet and Aonach Mor on which the gondola rides is 4006 feet. This whole area is marketed as the 'Outdoor Capital of the United Kingdom' and an all year mountain centre and even on a cool spring day like today there are plenty of walkers, skiers, snowboarders and mountain bike riders on the slopes. Yep Greg - you ain't seen nothing in the rides you have done - these are serious mountains and seriously steep tracks that have no safety rails, guards or other barriers that would stop you from plummeting very far if you slipped. And there are heaps of rocks, steep drops and rough paths!

The views looking further over the Nevis Range to Ben Nevis, across the valleys and lochs and down over the town of Fort WIlliam are amazing. Michael sets off to walk the Sgurr Finnisg-aig, the shorter of two trails and once done, sets off on the Meal Beag (slightly longer) trail and gets photos across
all the faces of the Nevis Range that are simply stunning. Meanwhile that blasted Ewok has returned!

Let's allow our Ewok to warm herself by the fire; whilst I tell you a tale. The walks to Sgurr Finnisg-aig and Meal Beag were just breathtaking - both in visage and the intake of breath! Describing this experience in words is insufficient to paint a picture from both tors.

The walk to Sgurr Finnisg-aig, the shorter promenade, was chilly and beetling; with a wind sufficiently strong to relieve me of sunglasses and casting them towards the valley below! A continual stream of walkers paraded to and fro, their individual reaction the same - unadulterated awe. We were provided with a 360 degree spectacle, which swept from Loch Fyne to the east and across the valley towards Aonach Mor and Ben Nevis. A 3-D projection could not replicate such a wonder.

As with Sgurr Finnisg-aig, the Meal Beag walk was no less wondrous. This walk took adventurers towards Ben Nevis. A longer trek, an 80 minute return journey, which provided walkers with vistas of moors, snow capped mountain slopes and cascading streams. As one approaches the whiter slopes, breathing can be likened to inhaling knives and the wind unforgiving. This is the toll one must pay for the privilege to gaze upon Natures tapestry. I soon opt to return to Maria who greets me with soup and freshly squeezed orange juice!

Our repast finished, we ride the gondola to the base of the mountain to proceed with our journey for Glen Nevis. On the way we visit Inverlochy Castle - well, the new one. This 19th-century baronial mansion built in 1863 by James Scarlett, 1st Baron Abinger; whereby it was converted into a hotel in 1969 which it remains so today. We drive through the main gate and pass the Gatekeepers cottage, follow a circuitous drive which takes us through the hotel's gateway. It is here in the carpark we are greeted by sparkling RR's and other status symbols. Our Vauxhall seems out of place in this money tree, so we opt to continue driving until we reach the highway. However, as we are leaving we pass one of the many hotel's gardens, and one has a huge and manicured chess board set into the lawn - resplendent with chess pieces to scale!

We eventually hit the highway and head east towards Inverlochy Castle's ancestor, the 13th century castle - the real one. Regrettably, this castle is now a ruin but nonetheless the true castle. The one treat with castle ruins is that you can view the remains with your 'mind's-eye', and allow your imagination draw a picture of how these structures must have looked. The ingenuity employed to raise these buildings during the respective eras is just amazing.

A little later we head back towards Fort William and then take a turn towards Glen Nevis. This is a waterfall set in the Glen Nevis Estate that starts off as a trickle high in the range, then spills spectacularly down over the rocks, down the side of the mountain and eventually into a rushing brook and then a busy stream. The young man at the Tourist Information Centre had told Michael that it was a sight not to miss. "Just follow the road right to the very end - until you can't drive any further," he said.

So after a 20 minute drive over hills and through dales (they don't build roads here - they just lay them on top of the landscape!) we get to the point of which he talks. Just before you reach the 'parking area' you drive across a bridge that is surface just with marine ply crossing the start of the stream that is a result of the falls - with the falls right beside you. The drop is not a high single one or anything dramatic, but rather a cascading beauty that streams down from the mountain high. It is truly a spectacle to behold.

Bumble bees! Scotland has been privileged to be caretaker for these native apidae. This insect is referred to as the 'Red-tipped Tail Native Bumble Bee', and they are HUGE! Noisy in flight, with a beautiful hue and as large as a boiled lolly. They are extremely swift which belies their size; fast enough to avoid being photographed at a camera speed setting of 1000th/sec.!

We return to our hotel for a short break before dinner - and Prash; our very cheeky though caring MaƮtre de. The staff at the Imperial Hotel are wonderful, most thoughtful and fuss over their guests' comfort.

Prash escorts us to our table, hands us our menus and turns to Michael and asks with a grin: "Tonic?" (ie. tonic water), and then turns to Maria and asks with a smile: "Wine?". Our requests for liquids, starters and mains are memorised by Prash, who disappears then returns with bread rolls and drinks.
Breaded Prawns with a sweet chili sauce (Maria and Michael)
Butterfly Chicken with Pepper Gravy and garden vegetables (Maria)
Scottish Sirloin with a Whisky sauce and garden vegetables (Michael)
We finish in the lounge bar - me with a double espresso and Maria with a Scotch Coffee (well, an Irish Coffee with Scotch Whisky) personally prepared by Prash - and she suspects a lovely good swig of Laphroig!

No comments: