Please sign in to post.

Hiking Ben Nevis - best base?

This is our 2nd hike-cation in the same number of years. This year as part of our Journey we want to climb Ben Nevis. We're looking for a home-based for a 3 day stay that will allow us to pick the best hiking day to do the ascent. The RS Travel guide paints a tourist-trap view of Fort William, so I'm turning to forum readers for a recommendation on a place to base for 3 days. The idea that one day we can rise, eat breakfast, and my within a 10-minute-ish drive to a trailhead. Maybe someplace just outside of Fort William. Need some tips please!

Bob

Posted by
4882 posts

Compared to many places in that part of Scotland, I wouldn’t describe Fort William as a tourist trap. It’s a functional rather than a pretty town, but it has all the facilities that you will need and is close to Ben Nevis.

Posted by
941 posts

Hi, Bob,

Have to agree with Jennifer. Fort William is a lot like Oban, but without the ferries. It's a town to stay in while you're taking day trips to other places. Don't believe everything you read in the RS guide. If it wasn't for the dual carriageway running between Loch Linnhe and the town, it would be a lot more attractive, but it's a good enough place to spend your three days. It's certainly in an ideal location. You'd at least have a large choice of places to eat, a couple of well stocked supermarkets, and a myriad of side trips to take if the weather isn't conducive to climbing the Ben.

You can easily avoid all of the Tartan tat, and the faux Highland evenings put on by the hotels.

If you really want to avoid the town, and want to be a bit closer to the starting point for the climb, you could try the Ben Nevis Inn and Bunkhouse or the Ben Nevis Youth Hostel. Both are well situated outside the town, and welcome climbers. I think that Achintee Farm, at the base of the climb, still offers B&B and hostel accommodation.

There are lots of other Munros all around Scotland if the weather doesn't work out for you while you're in the Ben Nevis area. Lots of good Corbetts, too.

Good luck, and be safe!

Slainte!

Mike (Auchterless)

p.s.: Just checked Achintee Farm on TripAdvisor. They're still doing B&B and have an excellent rating on the TA website. Looks like a good place to stay if they have space available when you're there.

Posted by
5563 posts

I agree. Fort William is okay. I did stay in Spean Bridge one time, but I was always going into Fort William for dinner etc. So better to stay in town and walk to dinner so you can have a pint or a whisky. :) Although, I will add a disclaimer that it was a few years ago, so Spean Bridge may have some options now.

Posted by
519 posts

Fort William is nowhere near as bad as it is painted and I wouldn't describe it as a tourist trap. In fact far from it. It's a working town and gets busy with locals stocking up on life's essentials and visitors staying a couple of nights on their way around the Highlands. It would be the best base in terms of accommodation choice, food choices and a quick hop to the various routes up the Ben.

It also has several outdoor shops - the best probably being Cotswold Outdoor, selling all manner of hiking and climbing accoutrements. Think REI but on a miniature scale!

Posted by
133 posts

Agree. We stayed in Fort William on our way north and again on our way south. The return was on a public holiday weekend but it certainly didn't feel ilke a tourist trap. Very much the feel of a working class town.
I ran up Ben via the track from Glen Nevis visitor centre. We were travelling and sleeping in a van and slept down the far end of the Glen Nevis road.
Unfortunately it was Saturday so there were plenty of people on the track. Still it was a delightful run. Started in sunshine but I was in dense cloud on the summit. My wife hiked about half way up before I met her on the way down.
Which way do you plan to ascend?
If you are heading up from the Glen Nevis visitors centre I am pretty sure you will find something nearby. This is a little way out of town so would possibly suit you nicely.
There are also some attractive hiking trails at lower elevations in that area.

Posted by
453 posts

We stayed at the Huntingtower Lodge B&B on the southwest side of Fort William. We loved the spot and it is 10-15 minutes from Ben Nevis. Since I am not sure of what type of lodging you prefer this may not be your cup of tea but it was well located and very comfortable. Plenty of parking. I would highly recommend them if they are in your price range. The ownership is new since we were there in 2014 but I still hear nothing but good things. Fort William was a great home base for us for Ben Nevis, Speal Falls, Glen Coe, Loch Levin Restaurant and over to the viaduct in Glenfinnan. https://www.huntingtowerlodge.com/ We enjoyed local music and food at the Ben Nevis Inn (at the base of the mountain) and were lucky to be there on a music night. Check them out if you are there on a night the music is being played. Be sure to give this website a good look as you are a hiker!!! https://www.walkhighlands.co.uk/

Posted by
746 posts

Hi Bob -

I’ve just got back a day or two ago from Glencoe. We travelled through or into Fort William often during our several days stay there. Fort William gets poor reviews, but I like it. It is, as others have said, pretty much a working town but it is an ideal jumping off point for several more popular destinations.

Including Ben Nevis, accessed by a short drive out of town to one of several car parks are in Glen Nevis.

The route you will most likely follow is ‘The Tourist Route’ which is well trodden and maintained and which is a safe option up. There are huge cairns on the way up nearer the summit marking the line of direct descent in bad weather (i.e. some are not directly on the path) as there is a risk of falling off the mountain - sadly as happened on the north face while we were there, with fatal results - if the correct route isn’t followed.

A more challenging ascent is via the Carn Mor Dearg arête, but this involves traversing a narrow ridge and a rock scramble to the summit and involves much more arduous hiking so you need to be a) much more than a casual walker b) comfortable with exposure and c) competent at route finding. The euphemistically named ‘Tourist Route’ is by far the most straightforward and ‘easiest’ ascent.

Be warned though. Ben Nevis has it’s head in the cloud for most days of the year - the summit is clear on average only twelve days a year - and even in summer can it can be bitterly cold on the top. I have been up in May and June of different years and have walked the final stages in poor visibility and snow. The fact that UK mountains are not particularly tall in the scheme of things does not mean they can be underestimated. Even if you set off in shorts and t-shirts at the bottom, it’s rare that you won’t need full body cover, waterproofs and hat and gloves on the top. We once set off in September in really warm conditions in t-shirts and shorts and on the top I was wearing every spare item of clothing I had taken with me. I even borrowed my wife’s spare mittens! By the time we got back down, we were back in shorts and t-shirts, so make sure you are prepared. You’ll see plenty of people on the way up who are hideously under equipped but it doesn’t mean you should risk it - it sounds like overkill if all goes well, but when it doesn’t.....

It’s a wonderful hike up, just take sensible precautions and I’m sure you’ll have a great time. If the weather is half decent you’ll get fabulous views in all directions! Fingers crossed!

Ian

Posted by
38 posts

Thanks Ian. Great advice. We are experienced cold weather hikers and always carry my list of "25 essentials" (including head-to-toe rain gear and packable down coats. We have several 5-6K footers here in New Hampshire and I've learned from experience to be prepared even in summer. Last year, we carried all the gear up and down Snowdon and Scaffell Pike in 80 degrees (F) bright sunshine, but I didn't mind the load and I know that weather was not common.

I ended up taking Mike's advice and booked from 3 nights at Achintee Farm. Scott seemed nice on the phone and I booked the last two rooms he had for the 2nd week in July. Hopefully one of the 3 days we are there will yield good weather.

Bob

Posted by
746 posts

Hi again Bob -

Good to hear you're experienced and carrying the right gear, and glad you've got your accommodation fixed up. You should be able to step out of the door onto the trail from there! Pub is worth a visit too!

I was climbing over the weekend in three layers on top - t-shirt, long sleeved thermal top and waterproof rain jacket. I had on four season boots, gaiters and waterproof over trousers over my softshell walking trousers. Plus hat and a couple of pairs of gloves. Also had back up clothes in my pack plus goggles, crampons and ice axe. Hopefully by the time you get there you won't need quite so much gear!

One thing that was useful in the descent off one of the peaks, below the snow line, but dreadfully wet and slippery underfoot - they've had ALOT of rain and snow higher up over the past few days - were a set of micro spikes (sort of mini crampons) which cost less than £20 from a well known online retailer! Paradoxically they were worse than useless in snow, particularly on the wetter, looser stuff lower down, balling up like crazy. But for avoiding a boggy toboggan through the mud, grass and heather they were really useful!

Have a grand trip!

Ian

Posted by
38 posts

Good addition and advice. I use/carry Microspikes in the mountains and country trails here from about October->May. Part of my usual fall->spring gear although by the end of May, I usually retired them for 3 months. You and I seem to be on the same wave length. Nice to meet a fellow trekker (virtually).

Bob

Posted by
746 posts

Hey Bob, glad to make the virtual acquaintance of another ‘off the beaten track-er’ here too! So many seem happy to simply admire the views, and nothing wrong with that, but I think the likes of us need to know ‘what’s up there?’ or ‘what’s around the next bend?’ and ‘where does that go?’

Ian

Posted by
133 posts

We had a brief visit to Yorkshire in 2016 and I was lucky enough to get some nice hill runs there. Bloody windy on those summits.
I was also able to do Scafell Pike and Snowdon.
Scafell Pike as with Ben Nevis lovely sunny day then near the top bugger all visibility.
Snowdon was blowing so hard the train got cancelled. Couldn't see a thing after half way.

Posted by
746 posts

Sounds like my just gone weekend in Scotland Mo’pak! Rule One: you can’t pre order weather. I’m a firm believer that your golden days have to be earned!

Your Yorkshire experience sounds about right.....

Ian

Posted by
38 posts

Mike Auchterless wrote:
If you really want to avoid the town, and want to be a bit closer to the starting point for the climb, you could try the Ben Nevis Inn and Bunkhouse or the Ben Nevis Youth Hostel. Both are well situated outside the town, and welcome climbers. I think that Achintee Farm, at the base of the climb, still offers B&B and hostel accommodation.

REPLY FROM BOB (POST TRIP):
Mike, I cannot thank you enough for this recommendation (Achintee Farm). We spent 3 nights there and it was that "pampered mountain side lodge" experience that my wife and I love. Only a mile from town, it was a restful and peaceful base in the Fort William area that gave us direct "right-after-breakfast" trail access to Ben Nevis (which we hiked last Sunday on a clear day). We could also walk from there to the visitors center and enjoyed river walks in Glen Nevis. And when we wanted to access Fort William downtown, Neptunes Staircase, and Old Inverlochy Castle it was minutes away. We also ended up doing a day trip to Oban and Glencoe from here and came back to the peace and quiet of our highland get away. A++

Posted by
941 posts

Hi, Bob,

You're very welcome! Glad to hear that you had a good holiday, and that you were able to climb the Ben in good weather. As I mentioned initially, Fort William makes a good central base for exploring the Lochaber region, as well as, in your case, climbing Ben Nevis.

Although they're not as high as Ben Nevis, you may want to consider Suilven or Ladhar Bheinn for your next trip to Scotland. Getting to the base of those mountains (Corbett and Munro, respectively) is as much of a challenge as climbing them, but there is excellent accommodation in Lochinver and Inverie.

Slainte!

Mike (Auchterless)