Fort William is the gateway to the Western Highlands and one of the country's main tourist centres. It stands at the head of Loch Linnhe, with the snow-topped mass of Ben Nevis towering behind.
Phone code: +44 (0)1397 | Population: 10,774
You could be forgiven for assuming that it's quite an attractive place, but you'd be wrong. Despite its magnificent setting, Fort William has all the charm of a motorway service station. A dual carriageway runs along the lochside, over a litter-strewn pedestrian underpass and past dismal 1960s concrete boxes masquerading as hotels.
Most of the good things about Fort William are outside the town. The surrounding mountains and glens are amongst the most stunning in the Highlands and attract hikers and climbers in their droves: Ben Nevis - Britain's highest peak at 4,406 ft - and also the very beautiful Glen Nevis, which many of you may recognize from movies such as Braveheart and Rob Roy. There's also skiing and snowboarding at nearby Aonach Mor, one of Scotland's top ski areas, and some good mountain biking around the Leanachan Forest.
Though it's not a pretty sight, Fort William is the largest town hereabouts and has all the services and facilities you'd expect. There are banks with ATMs on the pedestrianized High Street, as well as a couple of good supermarkets and two well-stocked outdoor-equipment shops.
History of Fort William
Fort William also has a rich history if we turn back the pages we can find many interesting things about this ancient creation. It seems that there were many Cameron settlements in the region. The area of Lochaber was Strongly a Cameron country before the fort, Inverlochy was the main settlement at that time.
The town slowly grew up as the settlement close to the fort in order to control the population after the invasion by Oliver Cromell during the English Civil War. Fort Williams got many names in the beginning it was named after William of Orange and later was known as Maryburgh after his wife.
This was further changed to Gordonsburgh and then Duncabsburgh at last got its present name Fort Williams after the Butcher Cumberland. This fort also was a key witness of the World War II, acting as a training base for Royal Navy Coastal Force. Still standing tall this architectural beauty has to unveil a lot about its historic backdrop.
Today Fort William has been rebranded, justifiably, as the Outdoor Capital of Britain. See the link for Fort William walks.
Local Sights & Activities for Fort WilliamSightseeing
There's little of real interest in the town, though the West Highland Museum, on Cameron Square by the tourist office, is a worthwhile exception. It contains excellent exhibits of Jacobite memorabilia, including a bed in which Prince Charles slept, and a 'secret' portrait of the prince which is revealed only when reflected in a cylindrical mirror. There are also fine displays of Highland clans and tartans, wildlife and local history. Info - Jun-Sep Mon-Sat 1000-1700; Oct-May 1000-1600; Jul-Aug also Sun 1400-1700. T702169. The fort from which the town gets its name was built in 1690 by order of William III to keep the rebellious Scottish clans in order. The garrison fought off attacks by Jacobites during the rebellions of 1715 and 1745 but was then demolished to make way for the railway line. The scant remains of the fort can be seen on the lochside, near the train station.
The Ben Nevis Distillery is at Lochy Bridge, at the junction of the A82 to Inverness and the A830 to Mallaig, about a mile north of the town centre. To get there take a Caol or Corpach bus (see below under Transport). Info - Visitor Centre open Mon-Fri 0900-1700 (Jul-Aug also Sat 1000-1600). Tel. 700200. Just before the distillery, on the left, are the 13th-century ruins of Inverlochy Castle.
Three miles from the town centre along the A830 to Mallaig, in the suburb of Banavie, is Neptune's Staircase, a series of eight linked locks on the Caledonian Canal. The locks lower the canal by 90 ft in less than two miles between Loch Lochy and Loch Eil and comprise the last section of the canal which links the North Sea with the Irish Sea. It's a pretty dramatic sight, with equally dramatic views of Ben Nevis and its neighbours behind Fort William. From here you can walk or cycle along the canal towpath. Further along the A830 to Mallaig, in the village of Corpach, is Treasures of the Earth, an exhibition of crystals, gemstones and fossils displayed in a huge simulated cave. Info - May-Sep daily 0930-1900; Oct-Apr 1000-1700. Tel. 772283.
There are several good rivers around Fort William, ranging in difficulty from Grade 1 to 6. Canoe courses are run by Snowgoose Mountain Centre, which is attached to The Smiddy Bunkhouse . A useful contact is the Nevis Canoe Club, Tel. 705388.
Torlundy Trout Fishery at Torlundy Farm in Tomacharich, 3 miles north off the A82, Tel. 703015, has 3 lakes filled with rainbow trout and hires out rods. Pony trekking from £15/hr, book in advance.
Hiking and climbing
Fort William is a mecca for hikers and climbers. For information on the climb up Ben Nevis and walks around Glen Nevis. If you want to hire a guide, try Lochaber Walks, 22 Zetland Av, Tel. 703828; Fort William Mountain Guides, Tel. 700451; Alba Walking Holidays, Tel. 704964; and Snowgoose Mountain Centre.
There's an indoor climbing wall at the Lochaber Leisure Centre (see below).
The Leanachan Forest, below Aonach Mhor, is 4 miles north of Fort William. Access is via the road to the Aonach Mhor ski development. The forest covers a huge area with 25 miles of mountain bike trails, ranging from easy to demanding. There is also the Great Glen Cycle Route, which is mainly off-road and runs all the way from Fort William to Inverness. For the hire, sale or repair of bikes, and good advice on local cycle routes, visit Off Beat Bikes, 117 High St, and at the Nevis Range Ski Centre, Tel. 704008, www.offbeatbikes.co.uk, open only Jul-Aug.
The Nevis Range ski centre is at nearby Aonach Mhor. For details, see above, and for ski equipment, try Nevisport (see above).
There's an indoor pool at the Lochaber Leisure Centre, off Belford Rd (see map), Tel. 704359.
Fort William Events
Fort William Hotels & Accommodation
Late Deal on Hotels in Fort William
Fort William isn't exactly the culinary capital of the Highlands, but there are some top quality restaurants and a decent choice across the range.
Most of the hotels offer lunch and dinner, and the best of these is the Inverlochy Castle. It's expensive but the food is superb and the surroundings are the last word in grandeur. Open daily 1230-1345, 1900-2115. Otherwise, by far the best option is the excellent Crannog Seafood Restaurant, on the Town Pier, Tel. 705589. Housed in an old smokehouse, the seafood is as fresh as you can get and the surroundings are unpretentious. It gets very busy and service can be slow, so book ahead and take your time (lunch cheap to mid-range; dinner mid-range). Four miles from town is An Crann, Tel. 772077. Take the A830 to Mallaig, then turn right to Banavie on the B8004. This converted barn is a local favourite and offers good Scottish cooking in a friendly atmosphere. (Mid-range prices.) Lunch 1230-1500, dinner 1700-2100, closed Sun. Open late Mar to mid-Oct.
A great place for baguettes, filled rolls and pastries to eat in or takeaway is Café Chardón, upstairs at Peter Maclennan's store, in a side lane off the High St, Tel. 772077. Fort William boasts a very fine curry house, the Indian Garden Restaurant, at 88 High St, Tel. 705011. It does a cheap lunch, takeaways and is open late.
The Grog & Gruel, 66 High St, Tel. 705078, is a pub-cum-restaurant offering good-value pizza, pasta and Tex Mex, and a wide range of superb cask ales. Open till 2400/0100. Also on the High St is McTavish's Kitchens, Tel. 702406, serving steaks and seafood at mid-range prices. In summer it hosts nightly Scottish music shows, with dancing and bagpipes, from 2030.
In Glen Nevis, near the SYHA hostel, the Glen Nevis Restaurant, Tel. 705459, serves a cheap-mid-range 2-course lunch and mid-range 3-course dinner. Open 1200-2200, Apr-Oct. Nearby is Café Beag, Tel. 703601, a cosy place with log fire. Good vegetarian food.
Travel Directions to Fort William
Fort William is easily reached by bus, from Inverness, Glasgow and Oban, and by train, direct from Glasgow via the amazing and beautiful West Highland Railway. The train and bus stations are next to each other at the north end of the High St, on the other side of the dual carriageway.
If you're driving, parking can be a problem. There's a big car park beside the loch at the south end of town, and another behind the tourist office. You can also walk to Fort William, if you have a week to spare, from just north of Glasgow, along the 95 mile-long West Highland Way.
The town is strung out for several miles along the banks of Loch Linnhe. The centre is compact and easy to get around on foot. Many of the guesthouses and B&Bs, and a few youth hostels, are in Corpach, 1.5 miles to the north, but there are frequent buses from the town centre. There are also buses to the youth hostel in Glen Nevis.
The busy Tourist Information Centre is on Cameron Sq, just off the High St, Tel. 703781, Fax. 705184. They stock a good range of books, maps and leaflets covering local walks. They will also help arrange transport to more remote Highland parts. Open Apr-late May Mon-Sat 0900-1700, Sun 1000-1600; Jun-early Jul Mon-Sat 0900-1800, Sun 1000-1700; Jul-Aug Mon-Sat 0900-2030, Sun 0900-1800; Sep-late Oct Mon-Sat 0900-1800, Sun 1000-1700; Nov-Mar Mon-Sat 1000-1700.
There are buses every 10-20 mins to and from Caol and Corpach, and every hour on Sun and in the evening. There is an hourly service to Glen Nevis, Mon-Sat from 0800-2300, Jun to Sep only (less frequent on Sun). There are 4 buses daily to Aonach Mhor during the ski season.
Bus (Long distance)
There are several daily Citylink buses to Inverness (1 hr, £7.40); to Oban via Glencoe (30 mins); and to Uig , via Portree and Kyle of Lochalsh (1 hr 50 mins). Citylink buses also go several times daily to Glasgow , via Glencoe and Tyndrum, and to Edinburgh , via Stirling (3 hrs). There is a bus to Mallaig (1€ hrs) daily except Sun with Shiel Buses, Tel. 01967-431272. Highland Country Buses, Tel. 702373, run several times a day to Kinlochleven (50 mins) via Glencoe. There is also a Postbus service (Mon-Sat) to Glen Etive.
Easydrive, at Lochy Bridge, Tel. 701616; Volkswagen Rental, at Nevis Garage, Argour Rd, Caol, Tel. 702432; Budget, at North Rd, Tel. 702500, or Practical Car & Van Hire, at Slipway Autos, Corpach, Twl. 772404. Prices start from around £35 per day. Taxi: You can call a taxi on Tel. 706070, or Tel. 704000.
There is a passenger-only ferry service to Camusnagaul, on the opposite bank of Loch Linnhe, from the Town Pier. It sails several times daily (Mon-Sat) and takes 10 mins. For times etc contact Highland Council, Tel. 01463-702695, or ask at the tourist office.
There are 2-3 trains daily from Glasgow to Fort William (3� hrs) via Crianlarich. These trains continue to Mallaig (a further 1 hr 20 mins) where they connect with ferries to Armadale on Skye. There are no direct trains to Oban; you need to change at Crianlarich. There is a sleeper service from London Euston but you'll miss the views. For all rail enquiries, Tel. 0345- 484950.