So why did a Midlands accountant sell Ben Nevis? Because it's there

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The Independent Online

Ben Nevis, Britain's highest mountain, has been sold for £450,000 by a chartered accountant in the Midlands.

The 4,406ft mountain beside Fort William in the Scottish Highlands - whose peak has been reached by piano-pushers, a Model T Ford and countless ill-equipped visitors - also boasts some of Britain's best ice-climbing.

Yesterday, Duncan Fairfax-Lucy, 67, from Charlecote, Warwickshire, who inherited the mountain in 1979, announced that the estate - bought by his family as an investment in the 19th century - had been sold to the John Muir Trust, a conservation charity.

Mr Fairfax-Lucy, who has two grown-up children, said the property had been valued at £500,000, but he sold it to the trust, of which he is a member, for just £450,000 because he believed the conservation charity would manage it well. The trust has promised to maintain access for walkers and climbers and has launched a £1m appeal to fund the purchase and management.

The sale comes amid a spate of mountain-selling in Scotland: £10m is being sought by John MacLeod, chief of the MacLeod clan, for the Cuillins mountain range on the Isle of Skye. The £450,000 cost of Ben Nevis also compares favourably with the £3.65m paid by the National Trust last year for Snowdon in North Wales.

Ben Nevis, a site of special scientific interest, is not the loveliest of mountains, seemingly more hump than peak, but provides stunning views from "the roof of Scotland". Weather on the mountain is notoriously bad - experiencing more than 250 gales a year, with winds of up 150mph.

The name derives from the Gaelic neamh, meaning "heaven" or "clouds", and it has always stirred the romantics. When Keats reached the summit in 1818, he wrote a sonnet, which described the typically misty weather: "I look into the Chasms and a Shroud/ Vaprous doth hide them; just so much I wist/ Mankind doth know of hell: I look ov'erhead/And there is a sullen mist; even so much/ Mankind can tell of heaven."

The scientist Charles Wilson worked on the mountain in 1894 and, fascinated by the weather, developed his ideas for the cloud chamber that made the tracks of ionising particles, atoms, visible. For this he earned the Nobel Prize for Physics in 1927.

The mountain has been popular with tourists since the opening of the West Highland railway to Fort William in 1894. Every September since 1895, it has played host to the Ben Nevis hill race from foot to summit and back - best time1 hour 25 minutes.

W H Murray, the renowned mountaineer and author, wrote of the mountain: "The Nevis gorge, taken alone, has no counterpart in this country and is internationally famous.

"Its Himalayan character arises from a peculiar combination of crag and woodland and water, which is not repeated elsewhere in Great Britain. The whole is one of the scenic wonders of Scotland."

The water rights to Ben Nevis were largely bought from the Fairfax-Lucy family in 1920, when they sold the land below 2,500ft to British Aluminium, forerunner of the Alcan company.

The remaining 4,185-acre estate, which the John Muir Trust takes over in June, includes two additional peaks over 4,000ft - Carn Mor Dearg and Aonach Beag - as well as the beautiful Glen Nevis withits steep gorge and native woodlands.