A Ben Nevis Story

  Romantic Lochaber
Donald B.MacCulloch

Ben Nevis has not the dramatic appearance of the sharp-peaked Alps or even the Coolin of Skye, but its massive bulk, its rounded contours and its wide-flowing skirts give it a venerable appearance, like an aged law lord sitting in judgment. This comparison is even more pronounced when the Ben is clad in the regal colours of Autumn and the early snows have draped his broad shoulders with an ermine cape. The steep western slopes of the mountain, the most conspicuous side, appear more or less smooth and rounded, but on its north-east face vast precipices, with an average height of 2,000 feet, extend for about two miles, where there is always snow in the crevices. The best view of Ben Nevis, from an aesthetic aspect is from Corpach on the north side of Loch Eil, from which it is certainly an imposing natural feature, but the view showing its precipices to advantage is from upper Banavie, about two miles to the north-west. The whole Ben Nevis massif, or group of mountains, is best seen from the high moorland road above Spean Bridge, from which point the various ridges and peaks appear converging towards an imaginary apex.

Although the height of Ben Nevis, 4,418 feet, may seem small when compared with the giants of the Alps and Himalayas, such as the famous Matterhorn (14,700 feet) and Mount Everest (29,000 feet), the highest mountain on the earth, it should be remembered that many of the highest mountains rise from plateaux which are themselves high above sea-level. The actual visible mass of the Matterhorn rises from the glaciers at its base for only about five thousand feet. Even Everest presents an actual height of only about ten thousand feet above its base at glacier level. The visible mass of the Matterhorn is thus only slightly higher than that of Ben Nevis, while that of Everest is only a little more than twice the height of Ben Nevis. As Ben Nevis rises in one vast sweep, or rather a double sweep, from almost sea-level, its height therefore compares favourably with the giant mountains of the earth when these other mountains are regarded apart from the high plateaux from which they rise.

There is diversity of opinion regarding the derivation of the name Ben Nevis. Both Professor Watson and Dr Alexander MacBain maintain that the River Nevis has given its name to the mountain and nor vice versa. Watson says that Nevis probably means venomous one, while MacBain says it is "from neb, meaning burst, or flow; the name may have been a goddess name allied to Nymph by root and idea." Other suggestions have been made, such as, neamh (pronounced nyev), meaning keenness of air, and bhathais (pronounced va-esh), meaning brow, thus the mountain with the brow of keen air. A popular, but improbable, suggested derivation is from naomh (pronounced nyav), meaning heaven or firmament, consequently the mountain with its summit nearest heaven (in Britain). In a wider sense, in the names Nevis and Nevada, the stem nev, meaning snow-capped, is common to both.

The Name, Height, The First Ascent, The Trigpoint
The Summit

Further reading and viewing on Ben Nevis and Scotland

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