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 William

Sightseeing

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.

Canoeing

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.

Fishing

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).

Mountain biking

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.

Skiing

The Nevis Range ski centre is at nearby Aonach Mhor. For details, see above, and for ski equipment, try Nevisport (see above).

Swimming

There's an indoor pool at the Lochaber Leisure Centre, off Belford Rd (see map), Tel. 704359.

Castles Nearby

Inverlochy Castle

Ruined castle to the NOrth of Fort William, once owned by the Comyns

Local Visitor Attractions

Nevis Ski Range

All year round resort beside Glen Nevis with a great range of activities from walking through to paragliding or mountain biking...

Walks

Am Bodach Munro

These three peaks are on the main spine of the Mamores near the middle of the range.

Steall Falls Walk

A fairly easy low-level walk is to the spectacular 300 ft-high Steall Falls at the head of the glen. It's a popular walk, especially in the summer when the trail can resemble the queue for the Ladies at a Tom Jones concert, but this doesn't detract from its stunning natural beauty.

Nearby Distilleries

Ben Nevis Whisky Distillery

 One of the oldest licensed distilleries in Scotland, The Ben Nevis Distillery is located at the foot of Scotland's highest mountain, Ben Nevis.

Fort William Events

Lochaber Highland Games

Fort William plays host to Lochaber Highland Games on the last Saturday of July each year.Held on the field at An Aird, which offers great views of Ben Nevis and Cow Hill, these games draw a number of spectators and tourists.

UCI Mountain Bike World Cup

A spectacular event where hundreds of world-class riders from more than 35 countries along with  more than 15,000 spectators hit the Highland setting for the extreme freesports of the Downhill and 4-Cross.

Fort William Mountain Festival

This celebration of mountain culture offers a diverse and entertaining programme of films, lectures, exhibitions, competitions and workshops.

Wild Lochaber Festival

The Wild Lochaber Festival, one of the best kept secrets of Scotland will be held Fort William. It will be a week-long celebration of the incredible wildlife and geology that can be experienced in Lochaber.

Nevis Range, Halloween Party Nevis Range Halloween High Wire Adventure

A spooky night time adventure on the High Wire Adventure ropes courses, lit up by candles, glowsticks and torches.

Ben Nevis Race

An amateur race to the summit of Scotland's highest mountain, for the experienced hill runners only.

Fort William Hotels & Accommodation

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