This was it. We were really going to Scotland. Waking up at 6, again, at the airport in time, even the flight was leaving on schedule. Well, I guess we just have had our share of bad luck the previous day. Uneventfully, we landed in Glasgow, made it to city centre, bought our groceries (a pack of juice and some gasoline, please) and took the train to Fort William. In my life, I’ve had my fair share of beautiful train rides, but this one was special. Perhaps because as we chugged through the highlands, I was putting together the ironing board, that I had to disassemble to fit into the luggage size limits of Ryanair. The other passengers were true Britons though and besides the occasional glare everybody kept pretending that people assembling ironing boards were most common on this stretch of rail. But the views on the West Highland Line are pretty damned spectacular, as well, so the ride was memorable even without the ironing board.
Fort William at the end of September is not that crowded. Our appearance with an ironing board would have caused quite a stir, hadn’t it been for the fact that among the 100 000 people ascending the Ben Nevis annually there’s plenty of freaks, and we were not really standing out, even in the thin autumn crowds. We set our tent on the camping at the foot of the mighty mountain and went to bed early to be ready for the big day.
The next morning started bloody early (again). We had our breakfast in pitch darkness and started our ascent. At this hour, we were the first on the track and had the whole mountain to ourselves (and the ironing board, of course). Weather was as fine as it gets on the most rainy spot in Europe, the thick mist lifting every now and then to give us a glimpse of magnificent views before settling down again. Close before the summit, however, we came across a small group that spent the night in the shelter at the top, so we had to settle for being the second group on the summit that day. The summit itself was what you’d expect a summit visited by 100 000 people a year to be – a giant public toilet. The ruins of the observatory and the scattered memorial boards and urns with people’s ashes did make it quite surreal up there. I wonder if all those people would wish their ashes to be left there if they’d know how many people take a dump on their grave.
Still shrouded in mist, we accomplished our task, ironing on the top of the Ben Nevis. We were done. From here on, everything we’d experience was a bonus. As it turned out, we’d get a wholla lot of bonuses. First of all, there were still quite a few people going to the top that day, and we’ve met them all on our ascent. We were given a heroes welcome. People cheered, congratulated us, asked whether they can take a picture of us and the lady holding a rag doll named Valery, who was going to the top in a red cocktail dress with the objective to stand there in high heels called us “crazy”. We were kings of the mountain.
Back in Fort William, our next task was to get out of there ASAP. Since we were on a budget, we planned to hitch-hike to Glasgow. Withing just a half an hour, we got a ride from an elderly gentleman who’s driving style was best described by “I’m old, and I don’t care anymore if I die”. I’m sure he’s been down that road many, many times before and knew every curve. But on the wet highland highways, in the darkness, driving on what for me was the wrong side of the road, I had to do my best to concentrate on the conversation with him to avoid looking at the road. Fortunately, the old dude was a great conversation partner – he was a retired Navy officer, going to Glasgow to attend a course in… tying knots! Apparently, if you’re a Scouting guide, even if you’ve been tying knots for the past 70 years, you still have to take a refreshment course every two year. The 3 most dreaded words in the English language are “health and safety”, I guess.
We were dropped some 50 km from Glasgow, at the side of a lake, the name of which I would never learn, and pitched our tent on the shore. By this time, Kristof, a housemate of ours who was in the area on an internship, has joined us as well, and we all hit the sack. The next morning we were… but wait, this has nothing to do with Ben Nevis anymore. I’ll just leave the last part of the story for another time.