"Only three stars?" I'm sure that's what a lot of you are thinking after your initial glance at my rating for Fort William. "How can you give only three stars for a place surrounded by such stunning scenery?" Well, yes, you have a point there... but that phrase "surrounded by" rather gives it away. Without a doubt, were I writing about Lochaber as a whole (the area of which Fort William is a part) I would have scored it five; it's a stunning area, with masses to do, and I've loved visiting. However, this is a review about Fort William *itself*, and frankly only the most myopic of people would claim that the town was the most beautiful settlement in the Highlands.
As Fort William is one of only two sizeable towns on the west Highland coast (the other being Oban, some miles to the south) most visitors are likely to end up here at some time or another, and it is undeniably a handy place to pick up supplies, get information and do the things that it is hard to do in more remote parts of the region. In particular, the town is known throughout the local area for its large branch of Morrisons, by far the largest supermarket for miles around. It also has a railway station and a fairly good bus service. Car drivers will be happy to discover that Fort William is an excellent place to fill up, with at least four petrol stations in and around the town offering fuel at prices no higher than in the south.
One thing which surprises many newcomers is that Fort William did not grow up, in the way that (for example) Aviemore did, as a resort town. It actually has a ruggedly industrial heritage, and until fairly recently the town's main employers were a paper mill (now closed) and an aluminium smelter (still in operation). This is one reason why the place is not that attractive, though - as in so many other towns across the UK - short-sighted town planning didn't help; the dual carriageway along the front of Loch Linnhe may be handy for through traffic, but it cuts the town off from its waterfront, which remains rather under-utilised. Mind you, restrictions of local geography do mean it would have been hard to have made *any* route for the road look good. (An ambitious redevelopment plan, in the works for years, has recently fallen victim to the recession.)
The pedestrianised town centre is nothing special but not the disaster area that some guidebooks make out, and has a reasonable range of shops, even if many of them are of the "Hoots Mon" sort selling shortbread in tins with shaggy Highland coos [sic] on the front. That said, it is telling that an empty space at the southern end, where a fire destroyed several buildings several years ago, has still not been filled. There are several shops specialising in equipment for outdoor types; indeed, Fort William and Lochaber generally style themselves as "The Outdoor Capital of the UK", a little boastfully perhaps but not without some reason. The Nevisport shop even has a mocked-up gondola out front!
There isn't an enormous range of places to eat in Fort William, though it's hard to be too critical of this: sometimes, especially after spending time out in the wilds, it can be easy to forget that the town's population is only 10,000 - this isn't Edinburgh, or even Inverness! There are some very good choices, however: the Crannog restaurant at the town pier serves up a very tasty fish-based menu, and the two-course lunch for a tenner is excellent value. Unfortunately you have to get over that dual carriageway to get there (thankfully there's a pelican crossing). Another good choice, in the shopping area, is No. 4, where I once had a superb plate of salmon on toast. For those with less refined tastes: yes, there is a McDonald's, decently hidden away behind the supermarket...
Far and away the best attraction in the town centre itself is the West Highland Museum in Cameron Square, despite the slightly steep £4 admission charge; if it's raining (and this is Fort William, so it may very well be) then it's a perfect place to hide from the elements. It's not enormous, and is quite an old-fashioned place in terms of presentation: you won't find piles of garish plasticky "hands on" displays here, which I consider a plus point but some may not! It is, however, well presented and the artefacts on display are very interesting, including a "secret portrait" of Bonnie Prince Charlie; it looks just like a splodge of paint, and only when reflected with the right curvature is the portrait revealed. Note that you can't take photos in here.
On the edge of town is the Ben Nevis Distillery. Its site is by no means as attractive as some of its brethren in more isolated places, but it offers a reasonable tour for visitors. Those over the age of 18 get a complimentary tasting, and in a nice (though, I am sure, commercially sensible) touch your ticket price of £4 entitles you to a discount of the same amount against certain of the whiskies in the distillery shop. I have to admit that Ben Nevis is not my favourite single malt: it's a bit too sweet for my liking, though I'm not knowledgeable/pretentious enough (delete according to prejudice!) to provide detailed tasting notes as the whisky experts do.
One thing I like a lot about Fort William, and which is not particularly common anywhere in the UK, is that its sporting scene is not dominated by football. Part of the reason for this is that Fort William FC are legendarily terrible - in the 2008/09 season, for example, they managed a single point in 28 games, finishing with a goal difference of minus 105! Instead, the main sport in the town is shinty, a distinctively Highland stick sport that is (very, very roughly) halfway between hockey and the Irish sport of hurling. Fort William's shinty team have been very successful recently, winning the Camanachd Cup three years in a row between 2007 and 2009.
I touched on the weather above, and let's be honest here: Fort William is wet. Really, *really* wet. Even compared to other parts of the Highlands, it seems to rain here more than most people would like; by some measures, the mountain slopes to the northwest of the town are the wettest place in Britain. Mind you, it's surprising how often you only need to travel a few miles to get away from the damp; the Fort seems to have its own micro-climate! The Outdoor Capital of the UK it may claim to be, but there are likely to be times when you wish it were the Indoor Capital too, preferably with a nice roaring fire and a glass of whisky...
Oh, and before I forget: don't come to Fort William expecting to get a good look at Ben Nevis. Even if the sun is out, you can actually barely see the mountain from the town itself, because there's a ridge in the way. The big bump you can see from the Morrisons car park ain't the Ben! You'll need to head for somewhere like Corpach, at the northern end of Loch Linnhe, or perhaps best of all take a boat trip on the loch with Crannog Cruises (from the pier where the restaurant stands). These cost £10 and last 90 minutes, complete with a visit to Black Rock along the loch, which is usually crawling with seals. The boat won't run in very poor weather, however, so it's best to be flexible; you don't need to book in advance.
To sum up, then: Fort William may largely have shrugged off its past, both in terms of the town's 18th-century anti-Jacobite origins (its Gaelic name, An Gearasdan, means "The Garrison") and its more recent post-industrial depression, but it's likely to be somewhere you treat as a useful supply centre and/or touring base rather than as a town to visit in its own right. The "Outdoor Capital" idea seems to have taken root, and has given the place a purpose and interest it was lacking until recently (note the controversial, but I think fun, "Sore Feet" bronze at one end of the shopping street!) but don't expect great beauty. There's plenty of that elsewhere in the Highlands.
I am a big fan of climbing, hiking and all round mountains sports. I love going up to Scotland and spending some time in the highlands. One of my favourite places in Scotland is here, Fort William. I've been going there since I was a little kid, its a great base for so many activities in the area that I enjoy doing.
Fort William is the largest town in the Scottish Highlands. It lies on the shores of the beautiful Loch Linnie and lies the west end of Scotland's 'Great Glen'. The small town lies in the shadow of Scotland's and the UK's highest mountain, Ben Nevis. The town has a population of around ten thousand all though this swells due to the mass of tourists that flock to the area.
Fort William is known as the adventure capital of Scotland. Close to the spectacular Glen Coe this is a great base for walking in the imposing Scottish mountains. Its also near to the small Ski resort. Along with that there are loads of other outdoor pursuits you can get involved in.
There are lots of nice hotels in Fort William, I have stayed in the youth hostel which lies a few miles up the road at the foot of Ben Nevis. There is a big walking culture so there are loads of out door shops for you to browse through and stare at the sharp shiny toys in there! There are also some really nice pubs in Fort William, most have a real warm and cosy atmosphere and walkers are welcome.
There are some nice shops in the town, some tourist type shops and some traditional shops as well as things like small supermarkets and other such stores. There is also a really good whisky shop with a very good selection. Another thing that attracts people is the distillery, I've never been but as I love whisky its a place I would like to visit.
To get to Fort William there are a few ways you can get there. The most obvious is by road, I love the drive up Glen Coe as its so spectacular and really gives you everything that Scotland is about with the wild moors and towering peaks. Another means of transport is the train, the West Highland Line passes through Fort William and again the journey up through the mountains is supposed to be one of the most stunning rides in Britain. You could also probably get there by boat, the loch goes into the sea so this is an other mode of transport available.
If your looking to stay in Fort William there are a few nice days out. Oban is about an hour away and is a lovely sea side town well worth a visit. If you want to venture a little further its about two hours to Inverness which is an excellent city that has plenty to do and is very lively. If you do go to Inverness you pass Loch Ness which you can also have a look at and see if you can spot Nessie! There are some good visit centres there where you can learn the history of the Loch and learn all about the mysterious monster.
Also worth a visit is Urquhart Castle which lies on the shores of Loch Ness. Its an interesting place to look round and you get some great 'Nessie spotting' views of the Loch. You can combine this into your day of going to Inverness.
There is so much to do in and around Fort William if you are into the great outdoors. I always enjoy being in the area and will no doubt return many times over the coming years. There is a really nice atmosphere around the town and despite the Scots not always being the most welcoming of people, the people in Fort William always seem pretty friendly.
If you are planning a visit to Scotland and want to get into the heart of the highlands then this is the place for you. With wild beauty and a warm welcome Fort William is a wonderful place to visit.
Fort William holds a very special place in my heart, as a holiday destination, for many different reasons. We spent every childhood holiday here (more later- oh good you say!), I was married and honeymooned here, (Sadly marriage only lasted 5 years, but I can't blame Fort William for that), and second husband proposed to me on the boat pier there. We have since spent a few holidays there, and I was able to take my mum and dad back there for a holiday, the last one my dad had before he died.
So what can I tell you?
Location, and how to get there:
Fort William is on the West Coast of Scotland, further north than Oban. On the banks of the sea loch, Loch Linnhie.
From the north/south, access is via the A82, and from the west A380.
It is also easlily accessed from Glasgow, by train and bus.
Current train prices vary bet £15-40.00 for a return from Glasgow.
If you are flying up, you can either fly into Glasgow, and drive north, or Inverness and drive south down the A82.
First founded in 1655, when a fort was built (no longer in existance). The scene of many forced emigrations during the highland clearances, and the town that pioneered electric street lighting in 1896.
It is an ideal place to stay, as there are wide choices of accomodation, from excellent hotels, to campsites and caravan parks, as well as many charming bed and breakfasts in between.
**** hotel- Onich hotel- six miles south of Fort William.
Overlooking Loch Linnhie. Lovely looking hotel, prices from £45.00per night. Customer ratings 4.2/5
*** hotel- Ben Nevis hotel and leisure club- A member of the strathmore group. A more modern hotel, with some good price reductions for Nov/Dec/Jan 09.
From £52.00 a night (before reductions), and has a guest rating of 3.6/5
Too many bed and breakfasts/caravans &lodges plus campsites to easily choose, go the www.visitscotland.com website to see what might appeal to you.
So what can I do when I get there:
Well the great thing is there is just so much choice.
For the active types, climb Ben Nevis, a fantastic trip, but remember to dress sensibly. You should be generally fit, and equipped with stout shoes, warm, waterproof clothing, a map, food and a compass.
Whatever the weather in town, a whole different ball game may be happening up the "Ben". The summit has an average of 261 gales a year.
Access to the footpath to the Ben is via Glen Nevis, at Achintee farm. On a clear day you really can see forever, or to then inner hebrides.
If thats a bit to active, take a walk up the Glen, to the series of waterfalls. The River Nevis is a great place for kids to play in. I spent many a year trying to dam it!, but never succeeded. There is a cafe/restaurant in the Glen for a meal/drinks, plus a nice campsite.
More action trips are available- take the cable car up Aonach Mhor, and if its winter/snowy, you can snowboard down, or in summer mountain bike down. There is a nice restaurant at the top, plus a shop.
Sea Kayaking is also available from Fort William, via "Rockhopper Sea Kayaking"
Snowgoose Mountain Centre offers all sorts of outdoor activity, from abseiling, to ice walks. They also arrange packages.
For the "not so active" amongst us:
Treasures of the earth: a collection of gemstones, crystals and fossils in a stimulated cave.
Glen Nevis visitors centre- open April-Oct.
Access for Glen Nevis walks, picnic area restaurant, and gift shop, plus info about Glen and Ben Nevis.
Inverlochy Catle is an old ruin, interesting to have a nosey around, but well worth visiting the whiskey distillery, and taking a walk along the river.
Fort William also has a public swimming pool, and cinema, handy for those wetter days, with the kids.
Boat trip on Loch Linnhie- take a trip down to Seal island, and watch the grey and common seals basking on the rocks.
Getting out and about:
1.Take the West Highland Line- to Mallaig, on a steam train.
Harry Potter fans will recognise the viaduct from the film.
The scenery is beautiful, but if you want to stay and spend a bit more time drive out to Mallaig. Pass along Loch Eil, to Glennfinnan, at the head of Loch Shiel. This is where Bonny Prince
Charlie landed and rallied the clans in 1745. From there on pass along Loch Ailort, a haunting place, with islets of trees. When the mist swirls around it, you feel like you're in another world. I've seen a lot of deer around here.
Visit the silver sands of Morar, beaches so wonderful, that if you catch them on a sunny day, you'd think you were in a tropical paradise. Stop for lunch in Arisaig- the Old Library is first class.
Finally you arrive in Mallaig- there is an aquarium here, plus the ferry to Skye. Its a real fishing village to, so its great to watch the boats come and go.
2. Try Aviemore and Kingussie: Drive north east. Kingussie is the home of the Highland wildlife park, which is well worth a visit, with reindeer, wild cats, and ptarmagan.
visit the Osprey hide on the RSPB RESERVE.
Go on to Aviemore, there is plenty of activity for all. From shinty to horse riding, golf, fishing, more whiskey tours, plus great eateries.
3. Visit the most westerly point on the British mainland- Ardnurmurchan point. Cross Loch Linnhie to Ardgour, and then drive along to Strontian, on Loch Sunart, just keep following the road westward. The scenery is varied, from ancient woodlands, to dramatic cliffs, charming little villages, and seascapes.
Well worth the drive.
The things you can do in and around Fort william and if I were to write them all, this review would never end.
Safe to say, and holiday in Fort William will not disappoint, but remember, it is the wettest place on the UK mainland.
Firstly, a word of warning when camping, make sure you have enough fuel with you. We ran out and the entire of Fort William seemed to be without meths. Next time we'll bring more meths or a gas stove. We did find some meths in a painting and decorating hardware store, but not before using vegetable oil, a can of pears and some toilet paper to cook on!
Apart from that camping in Fort William was good. The weather was nice most of the time, but not good enough to go up Ben Nevis until the end of our week camping. From the campsite it took us seven and a half hours to climb up Ben Nevis and come back down again. On the way up the views are amazing especially when you appear to be above the clouds. It is very rocky though, and my survival tip is lots of water, kendal mint cake and good walking boots. Alternatively you could try and run up and down it in one and half hours and beat the world record, but I wouldn't advise it; though people went up after us and were coming down when we were still on our way up. The worst thing about climbing was definitely the rocks, especially when coming down, it would be easy to fall. The walk can be done with friends/family or with a tour guide. Also, if you get to the top it is the highest mountain in Britain, and you can then buy a certificate from the campsite gift shop.
The campsite at the base of Ben Nevis was a large one, with about four different camping areas, hot showers, hair dryers, washing machines and dryers, washing up room, washing powder for sale, a shop, a restaurant and bar 500m down the road, and sockets in the toilets for charging mobile phones. It is one of the more expensive campsites (it was £15.60 for two backpack tents and three people) but the bonus was the facilities compared with cheaper campsites. The campsite is about 2 miles from the town and if you are tired there are two good taxi firms that can be called from the campsite public telephone boxes. The one thing about it though is that it is large, and if peace and quiet is what you want maybe a smaller campsite with less facilities and less people is better for you.
Fort William itself has a two screen cinema, and the night we were there showed three films, the last being at 8:45 in the evening. There are also lots of camping shops and souvenirs to buy. There are also two supermarkets, a Morrisons and a Tescos ( a small Tescos). During the summer a steam train, The Lord of the Isles runs from Fort William to Mallaig over the Harry Potter bridge.
It is worth a visit.
I have only ever been to Scotland once that was almost 4 years ago with my Mum and Dad. We decided to have a week in Fort William, leaving my younger brother at home to fend for himself and to look after our pets! We stayed in a rented flat in a residential part of Fort William, somewhere up the side of a mini-mountain. The good thing about the town is that it's not that big so wherever you stay you're not too far from the centre. The town centre itself consists of one main street on which are plenty of shops, some aimed at tourists others more practical. You can but haggis in a tin (not real - its a stuffed toy green thing), mini Nessies, Tartan Teddies, even T-shirts about the infamous midges (more about them later!). The best place to eat in my opinion is McTavishes Restaurant, they serve everyting from vegitarian dishes (ideal for me) to haggis, tatties and neeps (only for the daring!). If you are a drinker there are plenty of pubs/hotels to satisfy even the most choosiest of people - unfortunately you'd need my Dad for a good review of those! There's even a tiny cinema, which is up to date with the latest films! The most part of the town has two great views - one of Loch Linne and the other of the grand Ben Nevis. On our holiday we 'did' both. We drove right round the Loch and most of the Highlands in the process, which took us all day and took us throught many charming little villages including Strontian. On our visit to Ben we could only look on in awe at it's magnificent splendour. You can ride to the top in cable cars, but we were too tight to fork out, and frankly nothing in this world would get me in a cable car! Fort William is a good base for visitng the Highlands and much of Scotland, during our week there we visited Oban, Inverness, Loch Ness (and yes we saw Nessie - I have the poc to prove it!), Mallaig (ferry port/beatiful village - only reached by single lane road, tense
to say the least if travelled at night!), Inverary, Aviemore and loads of other places I couldn't think of, even if I sat her all day. The people (as everywhere in Scotland I should imaging) are very friendly and easy to get along with, just on thing though - if you are anything like me, take a translator with you. I spent most of the week asking my dad 'what did he/she say'! :-) The only downside of Fort William is the midges. The higher you get, the more of them there is. Thousands of the things, all were quite happy to have lunch on me, so to speak! I love the place and hope to visit again!
Fort William is a nice town at basically the start of the Highlands. I like living here so I though I would point out some of the good stuff to do incase you are planning a visit or holiday here. TRANSPORT ----------------- You can get to Fort William in a number of ways, we are on the main A82 which runs from Glasgow right through to Inverness so it is easy for driving, cycling or taking a bus. The main train line from Glasgow to Mallaig runs right through here on its way across some of the nicest scenery in Scotland, if not the world. You can also take the direct sleeper train to Fort William from London but I am not sure from which station. There isn't an airport here but we are not too far from either Inverness or Glasgow airports and Easyjet fly into both of those. You can also walk to Fort William (no really!) as we are the end of the West Highland Way and the start of the newly established Great Glen Way. ACCOMMODATION --------------------------- Ok, now that you are in Fort William you will need somewhere to stay. There are loads of B&B's and Guest Houses in Fort William - some which are just brilliant and some which may well leave you wondering why you came here. I really hope you get the first option as I really hate it when people have been treated badly in their B&B. (I know I am a bit biased but if you go by the tourist boards star rating it helps!). We have about a dozen hotels in town - none of them are part of any of the big chain apart from one Best Western one and one Relais Chateau, the latter is Inverlochy Castle and quite an exclusive hotel....... There was a story in the papers a couple of years ago that they turned that model Caprice down as she was not their sort of clientele but I am not sure if that is true or not!! In and around the town there are seven hostels - mainly independent but one SYHA. They are all really quite nice so if you are looking for budget accommodation you will
be fine! You can also camp - hopefully you will get nice weather. You have to stick to one oft eh proper campsites, wild camping is strictly forbidden and if you were to just pitch your tent in Glen Nevis for example you would be asked to move by the Rangers. WHAT TO DO ------------------- You've had a good nights sleep so what are you going to do for the day? Well, there really is tons to do here - I know that when you live somewhere you can never think of anything but visitors will not be stuck. You may have heard that it rains a lot in Fort William - I think I would be correct in saying that we have the highest rainfall in the UK! Don't fear though if you have forgotten to pack your umbrella (nearly all shops sell them!!) as there are a good few indoor things: West Highland Museum: This is right in the centre of town and is really nice. It is an independently owned museum and is just jammed packed full of all sorts of interesting things - whether it is military, wildlife or just general history that you are into you will find everything that you want to know there. The staff are really helpful and no matter what obscure question you have they normally know the answer Treasures of the Earth: This museum is about three or four miles from the town centre and is an exhibition of gemstones, crystals and such. I love it there. There is this one room that I always tell people about - you go in and the lights go off...... all the stones are glowing in luminous colours. It is absolutely lovely, definitely my favourite bit. Upstairs there are dinosaur bones and stuff..... kids usually like that. Don't worry if you don't have a car to get there as the number 45 bus goes right past the front door. You can get the bus from just behind the Post Office about every 15/20 minutes during the day, and if you are lucky then the bus will be running on time (let me know if it does as that does not happen very of
ten!!). Ben Nevis Distillery : About halfway between the centre of town and Treasures of the Earth lies the Distillery (same bus by the way). I have never been round any distillery but this one so I can't compare but I have heard that this one is much smaller that a lot of others. The tour is great and very interesting. When I did the tour, the guide (because he knew me) made me stick my head in this big vat thing and take a sniff - well take it from me, if they offer the chance of doing that run straight to the back of the line because it stinks........ No wonder I hate whisky!! Anyway, at the end of the tour there is a tasting session which is nice if you are a whisky fan. Even if you are not the least bit interested in whisky their little coffee shop is worth a visit - excellent home baking! Old Inverlochy Castle: Just opposite the distillery is the remains of Inverlochy Castle (not to be confused with the hotel). I like the castle - it is small but nice. It is a 13th century castle and is in quite good nick considering its age. Apparently there is a tunnel which if you came across it would take you underground (funnily enough) and under the loch to the other side. I have never found it but some Duke or Earl of something sure did when he used the tunnel to escape a siege or something (easy to spot who didn't pay much attention in history isn't it!). There's no visitor centre or anything and you don't have to pay to get into the castle so it is good thing to do if you are skint! Glen Nevis Visitor Centre: If you take a drive (or bus in the summer) into Glen Nevis you should stop at the Visitor Centre. Not only are they full of answers to obscure questions but they have lots of things to look at. I have only been in once so I may be a little wrong here but I am sure they have a scale model or plan of Ben Nevis and the surrounding hills. I wish I could remember exactly what it was now. If you have kids w
ith you then there is a really good bit for them...... they can learn all about animal tracks and stuff as well as the different trees and leaves and things. There's a wee bit where you stick your hands into the closed box and have to guess what's in the box, all a bit scary for me as I hate that sort of thing but kids love it. The proper name of the visitor centre is Ionaid Nibheis so if you are going then look out for the sign. Oh, and by the way, the visitor centre is the starting point for walking up Ben Nevis so they have parking and stuff there as well as a weather forecast for the hill. Nevis Range: Don't be confused about this, the cable cars do not go up Ben Nevis, they go about 2000 feet up Aonach Mor which is a couple of hills along. It really doesn't matter though as the view is spectacular (especially on a nice day!!). I like going up in the cable cars but at £7 each it can be quite expensive (just as well I get up for free as one of the few perks of my job!!) - there are family tickets though which work out better if you have kids. Once you get up there, you can have a coffee/beer/meal in the restaurant and/or go for a walk. There are a couple of nice short walks and since dogs are allowed in the cable cars it is good to take the dog out and get some fresh air!! For the more adventurous/crazy types then there is a downhill mountain bike course at Nevis Range, apparently is it great but not being into that sort of thing I don't know first hand what it is like. The recent mountain bike world cup championships were held there and it was so good that they are hoping to come back. Of course, in the winter this whole centre turns into a ski centre.... more on that later! That's really it for the 'town' things but of course there are loads more just a short drive or bus ride away: Glenfinnan: 15 miles to the west from Fort William. Nice small village on shores of Loch Shiel. There is a
nice National Trust for Scotland Visitor Centre there telling you all about Bonnie Prince Charlie and the Jacobite Rebellions and giving you the opportunity to climb up the Glenfinnan Monument. There is also a lovely museum on the platform of the railway station which is dedicated to the West Highland Rail Line - well worth a visit. Glencoe: Not only is there breathtaking scenery but a good load of stuff to do. The Glencoe Folk Museum is right in the village and is lovely. At the moment they are getting the roof redone so if you are interested in the traditional art of thatching then now's the time to visit. Just opened this year is the new National trust for Scotland Visitor Centre. I can't remember the full ins and outs (I wish I paid more attention when people told me things) but this centre was designed to be completely environmentally friendly. There is something about burning the moisture out of bark chippings to heat the building and a load of other stuff. If that is your sort of thing then you really should go and have a look (and ask the staff who will obviously have a lot more clue that me!!!). The centre tells you all about the Massacre of Glencoe and the clans in general. Glencoe is known for walking but if you are like me and the thought of walking up a hill brings you out in a sweat then don't panic as there are some nice little walks around a man-made lochan.. Some rich guy had the lochan made for his red-indian wife who missed her homelands. I am not sure how long ago this all was but it is one of those facts that makes you seem really knowledgeable when you can tell someone isn't it!! (Just like the "Duke escaping the castle" story above!!). Spean Bridge: I have to mention Spean Bridge as although I live in Fort William now, I lived in the small village for my whole life before that. Spean is really small but again really nice. The Woollen Mill is excellent with it's fan-daby-dozy coffee
shop (I have to say that as my mum works there and I will be in deep trouble otherwise!!), and very interesting weaving exhibition..... Angus the weaver is there on weekdays working the loom and if you have any questions he loves to tell you all about weaving. He has actually designed a few tartans and if I remember correctly (and you know me.....) he won an award for his "Isle of Skye" tartan. Also in the village is the famous Commando Memorial, which as you would guess from the name is a memorial to all the commandos who died in the war - they used the area of Spean Bridge through to Achnacarry as their training ground. If you like that sort of thing then the museum opposite Achnacarry Castle (sorry, castle is not open to visitors) has tons of information on that and the Clan Cameron. The Cameron's are from this area and Achnacarry castle is the home of the Chief of the Clan, Sir Donald Cameron of Lochiel, a very nice man! FOR THE OUTDOORY TYPES --------------------------------------- If you are the sporty type (not a bit like me) then you are not going to be bored here. Obviously there is loads of hills so therefore loads of hill walking and mountaineering. Ben Nevis is a really popular walk, being the highest mountain in the UK at 4406feet/1344metres. I did this walk in 1989 and would never do it again. A lot of people (especially those who have been up more that one mountain in their lives!!) tell me that Ben Nevis is actually not that great a walk compared to some other hills but I wouldn't know that first hand. The walk is not an easy walk and you have to be properly prepared (give the tourist office a phone and get a leaflet telling you all about as it is better to be safe than sorry isn't it!) for bad weather etc. Please do not go up in trainers or with little kids......... you may think that is funny but you would not believe the amount of nutters who think shorts and sandals are adequate clothing for hill w
alking! I know that I am running out of space here and that having gotten this far you should get a medal or something so I am just going to skim the outdoor sports bit - and anyway I have never done any of them so I shouldn't really write an op on them should I!?! Other sports that you can do here include ski-ing (Nevis Range & Glencoe - let's hope you get enough good snow!), canyoning (jumping off waterfalls as far as I can tell), mountain biking, canoeing/kayaking, paragliding, most water sports, pony trekking, fishing..... the list goes on....... TOURS ---------- There are a couple of bus tours going out of town so don't worry if you don't have a car. Some just do the close stuff and a couple go to Skye, Oban, Mull & Iona. From town there is a good short cruise which gives you a good chance to see seals in their natural habitat - we went on a school trip there once and were severely disappointed that you don't get out of the boat to cuddle baby seals!!! There is also a good walk round the town centre where the guide tells you all the interesting stuff about Fort William...... did you know that Fort William was the first place in the UK to have electric street lamps....... there you go, if nothing else I have given you a piece of trivia to impress your friends with! From June to September you can take the Jacobite Steam train from Fort William to Mallaig. This is very popular and you have to book ahead to make sure that you get a space. It is about double the price of the normal train and takes a bit longer but it is a really nice day out. Lastly......... It doesn't always rain in Fort William, it just feels like it does. If you visit when it is raining then come back in May....... It's a whole different world!!
Well, I think I'm very well qualified to write about Fort William, since I have been on holiday here almost every year from the time I was 3 months old. I have always gone with my family, as my Dad and a friend like to go for the hill walking in the area, which of course, is fabulous around here. Fort William is a great base for a huge variety of different walks, to suit all ages, levels and experience. Obviously, there is Ben Nevis, the highest mountain in Britain, which looms over Fort William and dominates the area. Personally I feel that Ben Nevis itself is now becoming more of a tourist attraction rather than a challenge to an experienced walker. It is highly amusing however to see tourists leaving wearing nothing more trainers on their feet and carrying lunch in plastic bags - whilst it might be quite touristy now, you still need to go well prepared, as the weather can change drastically before you reach the summit. Dad has kept away from the Ben Nevis tourist path for a good few years now, prefering to venture on to Sgurr a Mhaim (his favourite mountain!), or into Glencoe. Remember when walking round this area that it can sometimes be very dangerous - accidents do happen - so always leave details with someone from where you are staying, or at your hotel or youth hostel. It's probably a good idea to take a mobile phone, but of course reception can't be guaranteed in the mountains! This then brings me on to accommodation. We have always stayed in Glen Nevis Holiday Cottages, (a couple of miles outside Fort William, right by Ben Nevis) which has recently expanded and added 6 luxury lodges. It is very expensive, up to £700 a week in high season, but the quality is fabulous, the staff are really really friendly and will do all they can to help you. We've got to know them quite well over the years - and as well as the fabulous views, it is the friendly atmosphere here which keeps us coming back. The lodges are spread out
nicely, and each and every one has a lovely view, some looking out to Ben Nevis. When I was very small, I used to have to say goodnight to Ben Nevis before I would go to sleep! Glen Nevis Holiday Cottages also have static caravans, which are cheaper and so useful if you are on a budget, and have a few fields for campers as well. Glen Nevis itself is beautful, you can go for a walk along the river Nevis and right into the Glen (where parts of Braveheart were filmed). There is also a visitor centre, Ionad Nibheis, down here, which will give you much geographical and historical information about the glen, and information about the native wildlife. If this type of self-catering holiday is not for you, there are many many hotels and B&Bs, both in the town of Fort William itself, and on the approach roads to the town, of varying prices. I would advise that you take a car or a bike to Fort William, that way you are not limited to staying right in the town centre, where the prices are usually higher. There is also a Youth Hostel - I have never stayed here - but it always seems to be busy and is right by the start of the footpath to the Ben. Many students stay here - it's probably not the best place to stay with a family. So, what is there to do if you are not a walker? Well, I am pretty qualified to answer this, as Mum, my sister and I had to find things to do when my Dad and his friend went walking, and on some days, we all did things together. There is a lot to do - even if it rains! A few miles away in Glencoe is Highland Mystery World, a brilliant themed - well not museum exactly, it's hard to know how to describe it. It has a small theatre, where a character dressed up will tell you a highland myth, and then there is a spooky walk where you will meet various highland characters - sometimes people leap out at you and it can be quite scary - so maybe not for really tiny children. It is fantastically created and presented, somet
hing I highly recommend. The whole museum is based around highland myths and legends, and it is fun rather than educational! Other museums in the area include the West Highland Museum in Fort William, which is a great museum for anyone interested in the history of the town. There are quite a few objects here which are suposedly connected to Bonnie Prince Charlie! I love this museum, but it's probably not suitable for small children who could get a bit bored. There are many many items on display, and you'll end up spending a lot longer here than you might anticipate. Staff are helpful and will answer any of your queries. An ideal place to visit for a history buff. There is also a museum called Treasures of the Earth about 4 miles from Fort William, which is a museum about gemstones, rocks and minerals. Presentation and display is excellent, another idea for a rainy afternoon. I particularly like the fossilised dinosaur dung which is here! There's also a shop selling jewellery and unusual items - ideal for buying all those holiday presents for people left at home. In Fort William itself there are a variety of shops and cafes, many of which are aimed at tourists, craft shops etc. Quite good fun to wander round, although all the tartan souvenirs are not really to my taste. There are also regular shops - a supermarket (Safeways), which is useful if you're self-catering, Woolworths, Smiths, but no real clothes shops - don't know how the locals cope as Fort William is miles from a big town - I suppose the nearest are probably Inverness or Glasgow (which is 4 hours away by train - though the views on this line are fantastic). There is also a ten pin bowling alley, a macdonalds, and a cinema. We also found a helicopter giving rides over Ben Nevis, taking off from down near the supermarket! It was incredibly expensive for a short flight, but great for children and people who don't like walking (lazy peopl
e like me!), as you get to see something you wouldn't otherwise. If you want to venture further out of Fort William and lack transport, then a train trip down to Mallaig is good fun, and you can take either a regular train or a steam train. From Mallaig it is then possible to get a boat to various islands. Makes a long day, but it is tremendous fun if the weather's good. If not, you can just stop at Mallaig, which is a nice, old-fashioned town to wander round. Aonach Mor, 6 miles or so from Fort William is where the gondola and skiing is. The gondola ride is great, each gondola holds about 6, and you can get superb views - obviously assuming the weather is nice. At the top there are a couple of signposted walks you can do, to viewpoints, or you can just sit in the snowgoose cafe and have a big mug of hot chocolate with whipped cream! Then again, why not combine both options. Overall then, despite the occasional (!) rain, Fort William is a fabulous place for a holiday if you enjoy either walking, wildlife or history, but is probably not for those who like to spend a week in the sun where there are lots of nightclubs! It's probably more for the active type of person who loves to be out and about. I think it's suitable for the whole family - my family has certainly always loved it. It's also suitable for couples, and for students. Unfortunately it can be expensive if you go in high season, but in my mind, its well worth the money.
I have decided that it is about time that I updated this opinion, not least because the original title was factually incorrect! I had titled it ‘A ride up Ben Nevis’, as I thought that was what we had done, but it has since been pointed out to me that the gondola ride is in fact up a neighbouring mountain called Aonach Mor! More about that later in the opinion. Fort William stands at the foot of Ben Nevis and provides an ideal stopping place both for the holiday maker touring the Highlands or for the climber planning to scale Britain’s highest peak. Just a little bit of history for you, the fort of Fort William was built in the 17th century and demolished in the 1850’s. The main part of the town is based around one long main street, which provides a good shopping centre. All the main High Street stores are represented together with a couple of supermarkets, useful if you’re self-catering. There are plenty of shops selling Scottish food, drink and crafts. There’s one shop dedicated to all the Scottish whiskeys you could think of in bottles ranging from miniatures to litres. A veritable heaven for the whisky drinker! There is a leisure centre at the top of the town, which has the things you’d expect like a swimming pool, squash courts etc., and also a ten pin bowling alley. Three miles to the east of Fort William is the gondola lift, which takes visitors one and a half miles up Aonach Mor, which is one of the mountains neighbouring Ben Nevis. I admit I went on this under sufferance as I am not good with heights at the best of times, but my partner really wanted to go so off we went. I am really glad that I did (now I’m back on terra firma!). The view from the top was wonderful and the view from the car, when I opened my eyes was pretty good too! There is a restaurant, café and bar at the top of the lift and I confess to having a stiff drink to fortify me for the
trip back down. I did enjoy the trip down more than I had enjoyed the trip up but whether that was due to the fact that it was almost over or because I’d had a drink I don’t know. I would recommend the experience even if you were afraid of heights like me; the beautiful view by far outweighed any fear I experienced! If you want sunshine by day and nightclubs by night then Fort William is NOT the place for you, but if you want outstanding scenery and plenty of fresh air, give it a try, I promise you’ll enjoy your stay.
Fort William doesn't actually fall into the "city" category, but if you are planning to tour areas on the Scottish West Coast, then this is certainly a useful and attractive area to stop by in; or even use as a base for a week's holiday. Fort William has the dubious title of being the wettest place in the UK; however, my own stay was filled with hot sunshine and healthy breezes along the shore of Loch Linnhe. Any visitor to the Scottish west coast must be prepared for mixed weather, however. Most English visitors will approach Fort William from the direction of Glencoe or perhaps Oban, following the shore of Loch Linnhe into the lower section of the town. Many houses offer B&B and you may be lucky to get accommodation at short notice; however, it is probably wise to book in advance, especially during the main summer months. On the lochside, just opposite the south end of the main High Street, you can enjoy a seafood restaurant. Or, take a one and a half hour boat trip on Loch Linnhe, alongside the local salmon-farm enclosures, then on to a small rocky outcrop that hosts a seal colony. Right throughout, you'll get excellent views of the surrounding mountains, including of course Ben Nevis. The town centre is pedestrianised and includes shops for camping and outdoor clothing; another one selling (virtually) nothing but whisky; various gift shops; several takeaways, and the usual selection of woollen jumpers plus various kilts and tartans. Ben Nevis Woollen Mill, situated at the north end of the town near the start of the Glen Nevis road, has a large range of clothes for all family members, plus quality gifts, drinks, pictures, books and a tearoom. McTavish's restaurant, probably the most popular eating-place, is always busy. You can either use self-service for a tasty meal or snacks; or go upstairs for the ni
ghtly sessions of Scottish dancing and bagpipes. Early booking is, however, advised for this and Saturdays are very busy! Fort William is also the start-point for the famous Jacobite steam train, on the West Highland line, Fort William to Mallaig. Book early, these special trips fill rapidly. If you're not fussed about using the steam train, then you can go cheaper by normal diesel. The town lies at the foot of Ben Nevis, and attracts many walkers to tackle it's brooding slopes. For those who would like something easier, a short trip four miles north of Fort William will bring you to the Nevis cable car, which doesn't actually go up the famous mountain, but takes you some 2,000 feet up it's neighbour, Aonach Mor. At the end is the Snowgoose restaurant, where you can relax and look at the panoramic views. Like most isolated eating-places, however, the prices are not cheap. Fort William is a good base to reach other places from. The Kyle of Lochalsh (and Skye Bridge) is about 75 miles. Bridge toll £5.70 (one way!) for cars, in 2000. However, it's cheaper than the ferries from other points. Glencoe, Loch Ness and several Western islands are also in close touch.