From its fascinating creation to bizarre items found at the summit, there are some pretty surprising facts about Ben Nevis!
Towering above Fort William, Ben Nevis is the grand old man of the Scottish Highlands. As the highest mountain in Scotland, and indeed, in the whole of Great Britain, this peak holds a special place in the hearts of all budding mountaineers. Although it may be swathed in eerie mists for most of the year, climbing Ben Nevis will make you feel as though you’re on top of the world.
Hiking Ben Nevis is a bucket list activity, but there’s still a lot that people don’t know about this mysterious peak. Steeped in mountaineering history, and home to some fascinating flora and fauna, there are plenty of interesting facts about Ben Nevis, as well as several great reasons to visit!
Whether you’re planning a trip or simply want to learn all about the UK’s most iconic mountain, you’ll love these facts about Ben Nevis.
21 Interesting Facts About Ben Nevis
Ben Nevis was shaped by fire and ice
Although today Ben Nevis is a pretty wet and wild part of the Scottish Highlands, this towering mountain was once sculpted by the forces of ice and fire. The mountain is all that remains of the inner dome of an enormous volcano that exploded around 350 million years ago.
By way of comparison, the force of this eruption is thought to have been comparable to that of Krakatoa in 1883. Later, the mountain was scraped and eroded by creaking glaciers, all of which have since disappeared, leaving behind only the craggy, jagged peak you see today.
Even its name is shrouded in myth
One of the most interesting facts about Ben Nevis is that it’s not clear where its name came from. The most popular theory is that it is derived from the old Scottish Gaelic “Beinn Nibheis”, meaning venomous mountain. This would certainly match its fearsome reputation!
However, some scholars think that the name Nibheis refers to the Celtic god Lugh, who was associated with high mountains. Other possible translations include ‘mountain of heaven’ or ‘mountain with its head in the clouds’.
It’s the tallest mountain in the UK
Clocking in at 1345m above sea level, Ben Nevis is Scotland’s highest mountain, and the tallest peak in the UK.
In fact, the closest peak of a similar height is 700km across the North Sea in Norway!
Over 150,000 walkers make the ascent of Ben Nevis every year
Ben Nevis is one of the most heavily trafficked mountains in Scotland, partly because of its imposing stature and iconic status. It’s also a popular choice for fit, amateur hikers, as you don’t need any mountaineering skill to make the ascent. It usually takes around 4 hours to reach the summit, and a further two or three hours to descend.
Ben Nevis forms part of the Three Peaks Challenge
The Three Peaks Challenge is a legendary hiking feat, attempted by walkers with plenty of energy and a decent fitness level. To complete the challenge you’ll need to scale the highest peaks of Scotland, England and Wales: Ben Nevis, Scafell Pike and Snowdon. What’s more, you’re required to complete the 42km route in just 24 hours.
The best views aren’t actually on Ben Nevis
Although there are magnificent views over the Highlands from Ben Nevis, you don’t get a clear view of Ben Nevis itself on the route up! For this, you’ll need to head to nearby Carn Mòr Dearg, which offers a spectacular vista over the North Face of Ben Nevis. Don’t forget your camera, after all this is one of the most striking images in Scotland.
The first person to ascend the summit was a botanist
Although Ben Nevis has attracted a long list of keen mountaineers, the first recorded ascent of the mountain was actually by a botanist. In 1771, James Robertson made it to the peak during an expedition to the region to collect samples of the local flora.
For a long time, no one realised it was the tallest mountain in Scotland
One of the most interesting facts about Ben Nevis is that it took a long time for it to be officially recognised as Scotland’s highest peak. Until 1847, following confirmation by the Ordnance Survey, many people believed that Ben Macdhui, in the Cairngorms, was the highest point in Scotland.
The most popular route to the summit was once used by ponies
Climbing steadily up from Achintee near Fort William, the so-called Pony Track, or Mountain Track, is the most common route up Ben Nevis, and is suitable for hikers without mountaineering experience. If you take this route you’ll be walking in the hoof prints of mountain ponies, which carried supplies to the (now abandoned) observatory at the summit. The path zigzags up the mountainside, and you’ll need plenty of energy to get the top, but it’s a simple route to follow.
It’s possible to see Northern Ireland from the summit
This fact about Ben Nevis might surprise you! Did you know that that the views from the top of Ben Nevis are so extraordinary that on a clear day you can see all the way to Northern Ireland?
The Ben Nevis Observatory is the highest building in Britain
Perched at the top of the mountain, Ben Nevis Observatory (now abandoned) is one of the most important features of the summit. First opened in 1883, the observatory was an important meteorological centre, and was the site of a number of important discoveries, including the invention of the cloud chamber.
As Ben Nevis is the highest point in the UK, the observatory is consequently the highest man-made structure in the country.
Don’t forget your raincoat
Fun fact about Ben Nevis: the summit is one of the wettest places in the UK, receiving an average rainfall of 4300mm! In fact, the summit of Ben Nevis gets a lot more rain that its close neighbours, partly because of the swirling clouds and mists that often surround the peak.
It is usually around 8 degrees colder at the top of Ben Nevis than at the base, so wrap up warm if you’re hoping to scale the mountain, and be prepared for a few showers too.
There’s a poignant war memorial on Ben Nevis
For weary hikers seeking shelter, the Charles Inglis Clark Memorial Hut is the perfect place to stop and escape the wild winds of the Scottish Highlands. The hut was erected in 1928 by the parents of Charles Inglis Clark, who was killed in the First World War. Maintained by the Scottish Mountaineering Hut, this is the only bothy on Ben Nevis, and is an important base for hikers and climbers.
Someone once brought a piano all the way to the summit
I love this fact about Ben Nevis! In 2008 a group of litter pickers on Ben Nevis were amazed when they found what appeared to be the remnants of a piano just 200m away from the summit. It turned out to be the work of Kenny Campbell, who had carried the instrument up the mountain on his back for charity in 1971.
It’s not the only strange object to have found its way to the summit of Ben Nevis. In 1911, a Ford Model T car was driven all the way to the top. Plus, over the years litter pickers have reported finds including a toilet seat, a four poster bed, and a 3ft-tall garden gnome!
The North Face is a popular spot for rock climbers
The main ‘tourist route’ to the summit is the Pony Track, which doesn’t require any special experience or equipment.
However, skilled climbers are usually drawn to the North Face, an adventurous route for climbers with a plethora of ridges, pinnacles and outcrops that provide plenty of challenges for skilled mountaineers.
The descent is often more challenging
You might think climbing a mountain has to be harder than going down again, but that’s not always the case with Ben Nevis. When it’s cold and icy, many people find the descent tricker as it’s so slippery.
There’s an annual race to the top of Ben Nevis
Climbing all the way to the top of Ben Nevis is challenging enough for most of us, but every September, around 600 athletes take it one step further. The Ben Nevis Race is a gruelling feat of endurance in which participants compete to be the first to make it up and down the mountain in the quickest time possible.
The event began back in 1895 and is a highlight on the local calendar. As a guide, usually the fastest runners complete the 14km race in just 90 minutes!
Some of the funniest reviews on Trip Advisor are about the climb up Ben Nevis
I’m never sure whether to believe reviews on Trip Advisor when they seem this ridiculous, but there are some seriously funny write ups about Ben Nevis. One person gave it one star, complaining it was “very steep and too high”. Another moaned that there wasn’t a toilet or cafe at the top. While another moaned that it wasn’t “actually that tall”!
The mountain is an ecological hotspot
The beautiful landscapes around Ben Nevis provide an important area for conservation, populated by rare plants and animals. Sharp-eyed visitors may catch a glimpse of red deer, golden eagles, wildcats, and plenty of rare and beautiful butterflies.
The John Muir Trust works with visitors and local residents to protect this landscape and prevent damage from the 150,000 ascents of the mountain that are made every year.
You could climb it twice in a day
In November 2020, Dad-of-two Ales Mydlar climbed Ben Nevis twice in one day to raise money for charity. He was planning to scale Mont Blanc in France which is double the height, but couldn’t travel because of the pandemic.
Instead, he hiked up to Ben Nevis’ summit twice in 24 hours, covering 33km in distance and 2.8km in altitude gain.
Poet John Keats once climbed Ben Nevis
One of the most interesting facts about Ben Nevis is that it regularly attracts famous visitors. In 1818, the renowned English poet John Keats climbed the mountain, and was so inspired by the experience he wrote a sonnet celebrating the magnificence of the peak and the Scottish Highlands. It starts:
“Read me a lesson, Muse, and speak it loud
Upon the top of Nevis, blind in mist!
I look into the chasms, and a shroud
Vapourous doth hide them, — just so much I wist”
I hope you’ve enjoyed learning these interesting facts about Ben Nevis. Perhaps it will inspire you to pop on your hiking boots and attempt the climb for yourself!
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