STANDING at over 4,400 feet above sea level, Ben Nevis is the highest mountain in the United Kingdom, and one of the last places in the country you’d expect to enjoy formal dinner, bed and breakfast.
For over thirty years, the Observatory Hotel offered weary travellers a place to hang their hats and rest their heads.
But this was no half-way house, this hotel stood at the summit of Britain’s highest peak.
In the “midst of a drizzling rain and a stiff breeze” Ben Nevis’ Observatory Hotel opened for the first time on 7 July 1885. The Scotsman reported that a party of 17 gentlemen ascended the mountain to witness the cutting of the red tape.
The hotel was the brainchild of Mr Robert Whyte, then owner of Fort William’s famous Imperial Hotel.
Even in the 19th century, thousands of people were ascending Ben Nevis every month, and many travellers bemoaned the lack of respite upon reaching its summit.
Spotting a gap in the market, Whyte managed to secure planning permission and wasted no time at all making his ambitious vision a reality.
Incredibly, construction took just ten days, with Mr Whyte commended for his “ingenuity” in making the most of the available space.
As the name suggests, the Observatory Hotel was built as an annexe to the Ben Nevis Observatory, a station which had began collecting weather data in 1883.
Dinner, bed and breakfast
During the summer months, guests could opt to stay in one of the hotel’s four bedrooms for the reasonable sum of 10 shillings a night, including dinner and breakfast. Lunch was charged separately at just 3 shillings, with a “team” of just two ladies responsible for running the show.
A popular offer taken up by the more affluent in society was to hire a pony and guide for 21 shillings to assist you up to the top, before enjoying a night’s stay in the country’s ‘top’ hotel.
The hotel did not serve alcohol, and was referred to as the “Temperance Hotel” for much of its existence. A sign reading “Aoidheachd”, Scots Gaelic for hospitality, hung above the hotel’s main entrance.
An extension of the West Highland Railway in the 1890s saw tourism increase rapidly during the summer months, with the hotel benefitting considerably. The hotel even made use of the observatory, transforming it into a refreshments room following its abandonment in 1904.
Despite a successful life of operation, the hotel closed in 1916, unable to remain open for the course of the First World War.
Over the next few decades the hotel fell into disrepair, and in 1950 a group of climbers was spotted stripping the lead from its roof and rolling it down the mountain.
It is said that the climbers pinched the lead in order to raise funds for an Everest expedition.