The ‘Outdoor Capital of the UK’ is not just a route centre – Fort William stands in the centre of some of Scotland’s finest wild landscapes at the southern gateway to the Great Glen.
‘An Gearasdan’ – the Garrison
The Gaelic name for Fort William is an important part in the town’s story. The clan chief Cameron of Lochiel held lands to the north of the town and was an opponent of William of Orange, who held the crown in 1690, when a new fort was built and named after him.
Cameron loyalty was strong in the area but nevertheless the name survived, transferring from the fort to the settlement around it. The old defensive walls and barracks were finally demolished to allow access for the West Highland Railway. This important link was opened in 1894.
The arrival of the railway helped Fort William’s prosperity, allowing tourists easy access to the dramatic scenery all around, especially of nearby Glen Nevis and the highest mountain in the UK, Ben Nevis.
Today, the town is still popular with visitors and very well resourced as a shopping centre servicing Lochaber.
Accommodation in Fort William:
As a busy centre, accommodation in Fort William suits all budgets. There is a wide range of hotel accommodation, a lot of it overlooking Loch Linnhe on the southern approaches to the town. Bed and breakfast and guest house accommodation is here too, as well as in the main part of the town behind the main street. There is a choice of budget hostel accommodation and also more hotel, guest house and also b & b establishments around Spean Bridge and Roy Bridge.
The old Jacobite and Bonnie Prince Charlie connections are explored in the traditional-style West Highland Museum in Fort William. On the outskirts of the town, the Ben Nevis Distillery offers tours. Treasures of the Earth at Corpach is a fascinating display of rocks and gems from around the world. Further afield, the Ice Factor at Kinlochleven features the largest indoor ice-climbing wall in the world, as well as opportunities to practise rock climbing.
There are walks and climbs to suit all abilities all around the town. Nearby, Nevis Range on the slopes of Aonach Mor is one of Scotland’s premier ski centres but operates throughout the year, offering access by its unique gondola not only for walkers and sightseers but also mountain bikers – the centre also offers Britain’s longest downhill mountain bike track. Not all the activities are at high level. There is a choice of operators offering boat excursions on Loch Linnhe, to view seals and other wildlife on the water.
As an important tourist centre in the West Highlands, the Fort William area offers a wide choice of places to eat. Inverlochy Castle represents the very top end, but there are several other restaurants, such as the Crannog and the Lime Tree, with fine reputations. The choice is further widened by dining options at places such as Glenfinnan and Spean Bridge.
At 1344 metres (4406ft), Ben Nevis is not only the highest in the UK but inevitably one of the most popular climbs. Most walkers use the so-called ‘tourist path’ from Glen Nevis a well-maintained route to the summit. The excursion should still be treated as a serious all-day hillwalk for the fit and well equipped.
The wealth of outdoor opportunities in Lochaber branded under the ‘Outdoor Capital’ banner includes Fort William’s role as the starting point of the walking route, the Great Glen Way. This parallels the route of the Caledonian Canal to Inverness. Glen Nevis is another popular walking area, with access to Ben Nevis and other Munros.
Sometimes described as one of the great rail journeys of the world, the 42 miles (67 km) of railway between Fort William and Mallaig are a scenic delight at all seasons. They offer views of the Small Isles and Skye, as well as glimpses of the famous White Sands of Morar. Steam-hauled services – The Jacobite – run in the summer season.
Fort William hosts some of the country’s best mountain and adventure sports events. For example, The Fort William Mountain Festival 15-19 February is a four-day programme of lectures, activities, films, skills workshops, music, theatre, book readings, speakers, art and photography celebrating mountain culture in the heart of the Highlands. The town is also the base for the downhill and 4-cross action stages of the 2012 Mountain Bike World Cup on 9 -10 June 2012.