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Ben Nevis Observatory

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Ben Nevis Observatory ruins, 1982
Ben Nevis Observatory ruins, 1982
© Jim Bsrton

Ben Nevis Observatory was a weather observatory or meteorological station, located at the summit of Ben Nevis in 1883 and was operated continuously until 1904.

The following text accompanied the pic on the right:

On the left is the metal framework that housed Clement Wragge's instruments when he made daily summer ascents here in 1881-2 to take weather readings before the Observatory was built. The main building with kitchen, living quarters and office, is in the centre. The large conical structure was the base of a 10m high wooden tower (long since disappeared) which carried an anemometer and provided a doorway above the snow which drifted around the building, blocking the conventional doorway. A refuge shelter is on the tower base here, and has since been replaced by a more substantial version

Proposals for the observatory at the summit of Ben Nevis were first made in 1877 by David Milne Home, chairman of the Council of the Scottish Meteorological Society (SMS), the location being considered advantageous since its westerly location lay directly in the path of Atlantic storms. In 1878 he climbed to the top of Ben Nevis (at age 73) and reported the location was suitable, and Thomas Stevenson (lighthouse engineer and father of writer Robert Louis Stevenson) was given the job of drawing up plans for the meteorological observatory

A public appeal was made for funds in 1883, met with a quick response which meant the initial structure could be put in place by the summer of that year, an in October 1883 the building was officially declared open by the proprietor of the estate which included Ben Nevis, Mrs Cameron Campbell of Monzie, who ascended the mountain on a pony in order to hold the ceremony..

Serious observation began in November 1883 and continued until the observatory closed in 1904.

The building was often covered by snow drifts, making observations difficult, if not impossible if the observers could not even open the door. The led to the construction of a 30 foot tower for access through the winter snow. The tower was built during an upgrade to the site in 1894, when an office, two bedrooms, and a visitor's room were added.

The observatory had been permanently manned until 1904 when it was after the annual running cost of £1,000 could no longer be met by Government funding.

Following its closure and the dismissal of the observatory staff, the Keeper's room was used by the summit hotel during the summer for serving refreshments, until 1916 or so.

The Observatory lay derelict until a fire destroyed most of the remains in 1932, then it is said that during the 1950s climbers stripped the lead from the remains of the roof and rolled it down the mountain, supposedly to help fund an expedition to Mount Everest.

Ben Nevis Observatory Hotel opened for the first time on 7 July 1885, when The Scotsman reported that a party of 17 gentlemen ascended the mountain to witness the cutting of the red tape.[1]


1 The hotel that once stood on the summit of Ben Nevis - The Scotsman Retrieved 2 February 2017.

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Aerial views



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