I would have to recommend Fort William as one of my favourite trips, not for the town, but for the outdoor activities. It’s the perfect base for exploring the West Highlands.
I have had two really wonderful weekend breaks here, in 2005 and 2006. So why did I return the following year? Well, it’s such a fabulous base for outdoor activities in the surrounding area, and unfortunately I didn’t manage to ‘do it all’ the first time round.
If you’re one of the many who have just finished walking the West Highland Way, this is the place you’ve arrived at, and if you have any energy left you can carry on by walking the Great Glen Way, taking you on a further 73 mile trek North East, to Inverness.
If you plan to visit, then the first tip I can offer you is this : If you live in Scotland, you should drive here if it is at all possible. If you’re a visitor to the country, hire a car when you get here. If you don’t drive, Hire a Bicycle. Driving or cycling is recommended to appreciate the best of the surrounding area and get the most from your visit, but if neither is possible, there are many good Coach Tours in this part of the country.
This is based on my experience of the place, because although the town has pretty average eating places, accommodation and pubs, it is ideally situated for exploring some of the most stunning scenery to be found not only in Scotland, but the world.
DRIVING TO FORT WILLIAM IS A PLEASURE
Whatever direction you’re coming from, you will be passing splendid mountain scenery and lochs, and if you’re coming from Glasgow, then you’re in for a real treat. From the city you will drive round the shores of Loch Lomond. As you head further North you’ll drive through the magical Glencoe, round Loch Linnhe, and eventually you will see the towering peak of Ben Nevis looming in the distance as you finally arrive in the town.
Straying from the outdoor acivities for a moment (not easy in this part of the country) the West Highland Museum is worth a visit, and although there is a small entry charge, it is good value. Catch up on some natural history, geology and archaeology, see the Governors room with some gruesome torture instruments, the Jacobite collection of relics, local history, and see a grand display of Victorian and Highland dress.
On both visits here we were staying at the Alexandra Hotel, and although we had only booked bed & breakfast, we did eat in the hotel’s Food Stop Restaurant. We got good service, the food was good, reasonably priced, and it was served in nice surroundings.
Visit in July and take in the Lochaber Highland Games, at An Aird in the town.
ARE YOU A HARRY POTTER FAN?
There’s a few things you should do in Fort William, and one of them is to take a magical ride on the old JACOBITE STEAM TRAIN. This train travels over the Glenfinnan Viaduct, on the same route taken by HOGWARTS EXPRESS in four of the Harry Potter films.
Starting off near the foot of Ben Nevis, the 84 mile round trip will take you on a lovely journey through some magnificent scenery, and you will spend one and a half hours in Mallaig. (From Mallaig there’s a ferry to the Isle of Skye). The whole trip lasts just under six hours, and it’s an excursion that’s highly recommended. Just imagine how great it will feel when you tell all your friends you’ve been on the Hogwarts Express route.
Another thing you should do, assuming you’re not a climber, is to take the Gondola up Aonach Mòr to the popular Snowgoose restaurant, 655m up. Aonach Mòr is one of the mountains on the Nevis Range, about 2 miles from Ben Nevis, and in summer the views from here are staggering. The magnificent Nevis Range is a popular resort for climbers in summer, hoping to Bag a Few Munros, and winter has skiers from all over the world arrive here for fantastic skiing which is sometimes possible until Easter.
The Nevis Range Mountain Experience offers good choices for outdoor enthusiasts the whole year round. Mountain biking is also very popular here with a choice of the downhill mountain bike track and the testing cross country trails, for energetic types.
If you prefer to keep your feet on the ground, there’s 25 miles of forest trails offering excellent walks, but my own personal favourite has to be the mountain trails on Aonach Mòr, for the views. On a clear day you can see all the way across to the Inner Hebrides.
Some of the towns and villages around Fort William are also worth visiting.
Just 17 miles west on the A830 is the village of Glenfinnan, at the head of Loch Shiel, and this is where you’ll find the monument to mark the spot where Bonnie Prince Charlie raised his standard to signify the start of the 1745 Jacobite Rebellion.
There’s nice forest walks here, and watersports, with canoeing, fishing, and boat trips on the loch. But there are many villages around the area with something of interest for everyone, which is why Fort William is the perfect base for exploring The Highlands.
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