Well, that’s another box ticked on the Bucket List: I’ve conquered Ben Nevis, the highest mountain in the UK. This peak was selected by youngest son Scott as our target for the 2014 version of “The Munroamers”, an annual visit to the mountains of Scotland to conquer a selection of those over 3000 feet (914 metres). It’s a Boys Only affair, featuring myself and our 4 boys George junior, Gavin, Greg and Scott. This was our 10th year and included only 1 mountain on day 1 and our usual walk on the last day before driving home. The whole adventure had been reduced from the normal 3 days to 2 because of continuing commitments on the part of the boys – well they insist on having jobs and partners and children and stuff like that!

So on Friday 1 August at 5.30 in the morning, Scott, Greg and I were in the kitchen making egg and tuna mayo rolls and filling flasks with tea in preparation for our challenge far away above Fort William. An hour later, we had picked up George from his house and were cruising out to Perth in my Audi, the car filled with the chatter of…….. me! George was still waking up, Greg was texting as usual and Scott had quickly gone back to sleep as he’d only had 10 hours kip the night before, simply not enough he claimed for a growing 24 year-old!

Where was Gavin I hear you ask? Well, not to put too fine a point on it, dear second son had rather f*&!*ed up on the arrangements this time round and would have to miss out on Day 1. No, he hadn’t forgotten to book his day off from work, indeed he’d booked it well in advance as I always ask the boys to do. No, he’d simply suffered an aberration and convinced himself that we were to attempt Ben Nevis on the Saturday and not the Friday so had cancelled his Friday day off after booking it! When his error was pointed out to him by one of his brothers, he asked for the day off to be reinstated but his duties had been organized by then and he had to work at the High Court in Aberdeen. This is not typical of son Gavin and I can only assume that being a father for the past 12 months has reduced him to a quivering wreck like it did for me!

Here we go!

Here we go!

But the rest of us reached Fort William safe and sound, drove down to the visitors’ centre, used the facilities (well you have to before you go out on the mountain!) and set off on our adventure. When I say adventure, it wasn’t quite the most exciting mountain we’ve ever climbed and indeed it was really a bit boring walking up a broad path along with about a million other people in the pissing rain. Fortunately the social side of our Munro-bagging more than compensated for the poor weather and unattractive terrain. By switching between partners on the way up we were all able to catch up with each other just the way we had always planned it. The boys all took turns dropping back to talk to their rather slow, plodding Dad and I was up-to-date with all their news by the time we approached the snowfield just below the summit.

Where's the sledge?

Where’s the sledge?

Four hours after setting out, we strolled over the last few metres of the small upper plateau and reached the trig point at the summit of Britain’s highest mountain. We were happy indeed and not really as completely exhausted as we have been in previous years at the top of other mountains like Ben More for instance. As we sheltered in a ruined cottage having our lunch and celebrating our success, the clouds began to rise above the summit and the sun began to peek through the slowly-disappearing mist, bringing even more smiles from the intrepid Burtons.

We made it!

We made it!

The long trek down to Fort William was wonderful. Our descent was in glorious sunshine warm enough to reduce us to tee shirts on top and necessitate the old man searching in his backpack for a hat to protect his balding head. Greg delighted us by attempting to slide down the snowfield on a plastic bag, George kept us chuckling with a theory about Ryanair raising even more money by asking for £20 or a full-force punch in the pus as you enter the aeroplane, while Scott seemed not to mind having spent so many hours unable to check himself in the mirror! Through the magic of technology poor Gavin was able to keep up with how we were doing and frequently texted to remind us that we were “lucky b****ards”. He did however manage to get away from court just after three when we were about halfway down and was speeding through the north of Scotland from East to West to join us at the hostel we were to be staying in.

Scott and Greg. Typical!

Scott and Greg. Typical!

Once settled in at our digs, I had a wee nap while the boys did their thing and when I awoke at about seven Gavin was there in the room. It was lovely to have all my boys around me again and I knew the evening would be brilliant which it was. We ate 200 metres along the road in a very nice hotel, drink was taken in abundance and we were all in bed asleep by 11.30 (along with 2 Frenchmen and 1 Frenchwoman!). 4 double bunks per room you see! When the alarms went off at eight the next morning only the Burtons remained, the three Gallic visitors having fled the nest. The boys immediately pointed accusing fingers in my direction, suggesting my snoring (I don’t snore!) and other night-time sounds had driven them from the room at the crack of dawn! How could they?

The boys went and bought breakfast stuff down at the local store and I prepared bacon and egg rolls for five, well four and a half actually as George is still a veggie! We bid farewell to the Chase the Goose hostel and drove back to the visitors’ centre then on to the car park at Glen Nevis from where we walked into the Glen and back, a round trip of 6 miles or so. My legs were a bit sore, especially my left knee which simply refused to bend properly, but I managed the experience ok and kept up with the boys most of the time.

Munroamers 2014

Munroamers 2014

At the far end of the glen we emerged out into a meadow below a spectacular waterfall and stopped at the interesting chain bridge, a place I had been last year when acting as guide for some German tourists. We played around at the bridge for half an hour but were eventually chased away by a plague of Highland midgies, returning to the car park seemingly unscathed. I say “seemingly” because the extraordinary damage these little horrors had done to my exposed lower limbs was to come to light back in Dundee. We said au revoir to each other amidst copious hugs in the car park, promised to attend Munroamers 2015 wherever it might be and then set off back to the East coast, Gavin with Greg, and George driving Scott and I back in the Audi.

Boys will be boys!

Boys will be boys!

Safely back home, Scott made me my tea before going out on the town with his mates. I slept all evening and all night, waking at 10.00 on Sunday morning and reaching the loo about 10 minutes later, having performed a decent impression of Sir Douglas Bader at his best! Once seated I looked down and noticed my legs. Oh my God, I’d been eaten alive!! That’s when the itching started. Five days later it has stopped and I now walk with only a slight limp. The left knee still hurts but otherwise I’m in one piece. The boys of course are all fully recovered.

Ouch!

Ouch!

Was it worth it? Definitely! Roll on the next Munroamers!

Advertisements