17th October 1883

Ben Nevis observatory is established

“Ben Nevis Observatory was formally opened yesterday,” announced the Glasgow Evening Citizen of 18 October 1883. “A procession started from the town of Fort-William for the top of the mountain about nine o’clock… Mrs Cameron Campbell of Menzie, the proprietrix of Fort-William, and also of that part of Ben Nevis traversed by the bridle path and the site of the observatory… formally declared the observatory open. A small cannon which was conveyed to the top of the Ben on the previous day for the purpose was then fired in honour of the event.”

Sky-high opening

Around 150 officials and spectators had climbed to 4400ft above sea level to witness the opening of an observatory that had been called for many times over the years. Among them was Alex Buchan, Secretary of the Scottish Meteorological Society, and Sidney Mitchell, the observatory’s architect. No sooner had the key been handed over than a blinding snow started to fall, forcing a careful retreat.

Meteorologists based at the observatory took readings every hour for the first twenty years of its existence, and transmitted them by radio to Fort William. This helped with immediate forecasting, without all the effort of climbing up and down the mountain. It was abandoned in 1904 and the building has been allowed to fall into ruin.

Dalnaspidal meteorological observatory

This wasn’t Scotland’s first high-level observatory. The Evening Mail of 19 October noted that Dalnaspidal, in the Grampian range, hosted an equivalent facility at 1,450ft. “Hitherto good results have been obtained from the Dalnaspidal readings, but in 1877 the chairman of the Meteorological Society of Scotland, Mr Milne Home, suggested Ben Nevis as a more eligible position, that being… the highest mountain in the United Kingdom, and situated in the track of the south-west storms from the Atlantic which are well known to exert a powerful influence on the weather in Europe.”

Prior to the opening, a series of test readings had been taken from Ben Nevis by Clement Wragge, an observer at the Fort William weather station, who climbed to the top of the mountain every day between June and October 1881. Wragge’s measurements proved that there was significant difference between the weather at the top of the Ben, and in Fort William and, continued the Evening Mail of 19 October, “the Council of the society resolved to erect a permanent observatory on the summit of the mountain. Subscriptions to the amount of £4000 were obtained, and with this sum a suitable building has been erected.”



Other events that occured in October

FREE Scotland history newsletter

Don't miss our weekly update on Scotland's fascinating history. We promise never to sell your data to anyone else, and there's a super-easy unsubscribe link on the bottom of each email so you can leave whenever you want.